On the year’s last day / when all of a life’s accounts / have been settled up.-Hana
When I look back at myself and my circumstances, I don’t feel I have much, if anything, to be truly thankful for. To elaborate, by “truly thankful” I mean thankful in a way that cannot be attributed to any identifiable source. This is the kind of thanks usually reserved for God, but as an atheist, or at least as near to one as an agnostic can get, I can attribute those thanks solely to the miraculous and ineffable probabilities behind the forces of existence that we cannot hope to comprehend. Or at least I would, if any such thanks were mine to give.
This thought occurred to me upon my return home for Thanksgiving, where my liberal-minded upper middle-class parents encouraged me to distance myself from the toxic, colonial aspects of the holiday, and instead use it as a means of reflection on what I’m truly thankful for. Upon pondering this, I realized this oddity regarding my own existence. Essentially everything in my life I hold gratitude towards is the direct result of the actions of either myself, or my parents. My father is a successful entrepreneur who earns the wealth that supports my family through a self-owned business. My mother dedicated her life to the nurturing of our family, allowing me to grow up safe, comfortable, and well-educated. Finally, I myself, through perseverance against a society that’s biased against me, managed to earn a complete, (or nearly complete), college education.
I take this distinction seriously, and I do so out of obligation. My experiences with discrimination, despite the many fortunes my upbringing has granted me, has made me keenly aware of how many of those fortunes are denied to much of the world. Many grow up without ever having the opportunity to run a business or earn an education, no matter how much effort they put in. I can’t see any miracles in that, and if I can’t, how am I supposed to see it in the life that merely resulted itself from clear efforts? How would the unfortunates of this world answer this question?
Tokyo Godfathers is a film about a possible answer. The film concerns the lives of three homeless outcasts. Gin: an alcoholic who lost his family to gambling, Hana: a transgender woman abandoned by society, and Miyuki, a teenage runaway fleeing from her past. Each character is defined by the mistakes of their past. Gin lives his life in escapism, using alcohol and his imagination to avoid confronting the loss of his family at the hands of his own gambling addiction. Hana was faced with both abandonment at birth and scorn from a society that does not understand her, and her response was to fight back instead of taking it passively, leaving her completely abandoned. Miyuki was overwhelmed by the resentment she developed towards her parents, and it manifested in an act of violence she sees as irreversible. The misfortune they face is unavoidable, their coping mechanisms hopelessly ineffective. Without the recourse of a privileged life to take solace in, they must bear their scars openly.
At the time my parents were conceiving me and my sister, they were seemingly no longer tied down by their past burdens. They merely wanted to start a family in a way that was expected of them. The scars were still there however. As we grew up, the scars left by their own histories started to resurface. I got used to treading lightly around my father, while remaining oblivious to the sacrifices my mother was making in my service. The strangest thing to me about these times is how long these issues would remain unacknowledged. After all, we we had nothing to be truly thankful for. We learned how to sublimate our pain through the various amenities afforded to us. Desktop computers, HD cameras, TV on demand, tablets and cell phones, alcohol and cigarettes. We had gotten very good at hiding our scars.
Tokyo Godfathers is a story almost entirely consisting of miracles in the classical sense. The godfathers encounter an abandoned baby left in the filth, and take it upon themselves to deliver her to her parents, in a clear parallel to Christ’s birth. Across the course of their journey, miraculous happenstances constantly manifest around them, pushing them to see their quest to fruition. These miracles are often grandiose in nature, from a hitman’s assassination attempt preventing a character from making a potentially fatal mistake, to a spontaneous argument with a drunk passerby saving the characters from a car crash. The most important miracles in the film, however, are the more mundane ones that bring the characters back into contact with their respective pasts. Gin is given the chance to reconnect with his family, Hana is allowed to make amends with the found family whom she abandoned out of shame, and Miyuki is pushed towards a reunion with parents who so desperately want her safely back in their lives. Miracles have provided these characters a chance to transcend their unfortunate circumstances.
My parents did not come from fortunate backgrounds. My father’s parents did not go to college, and were supported by his father in the army, and my mother had to learn how to survive while being raised by two globe-trotting alcoholics. In spite of everything, both were presented with many fortunate opportunities that they were able to use to improve their lives. My father was the first of his family’s generation to graduate college, and my mother’s wordy experiences led to her being praised as a prestigious talent. These experiences were merely the fabric of their lives, but in a sense, they were also miracles. Both my parents used them to not only pull themselves out of an unfortunate situation, but to elevate themselves to a level where the same struggles they faced would not be shared by their children. If I reexamine my own history, as the holiday encourages, I find the rich and peaceful life I now live is thanks to the good fortune my parents mined from the miracles they were given.
What matters most about miracles is what you do with them, and the heroes of Tokyo Godfathers are such because of what they choose to do with the miracles they are given. Everyone has struggles, but many refuse to face them, wasting the miracles life may give them to do so. Even with ample temptation, the three godfathers refuse to let the miracles go to waste and make the hard decision to challenge their pasts. I realize that this is the same decision my parents must have made. They could have easily lived a comfortable double-income no-kids life together, but they chose to become parents knowing how badly their own parents had failed them. This was their way of confronting the unfortunate conditions that had defined their pasts.
Choosing to confront your past and actually being able to resolve it are two different things however. Much of what my parents truly struggled against is the emotional turmoil their own parents put them through. Unlike before, these struggles are given no miracles to easily resolve them, and they left scars that while watered down, eventually pushed misfortune onto their children. My father’s father was a verbally and emotionally abusive perfectionist, and that led to a father that shouts in frustration and prefers to tackle every problem single-handedly. My mother’s parents were neglectful in every sense, so my mother spends much of her life overcompensating on the rest of us, often at her own expense. Is endeavoring to confront your mistakes through a proxy a real solution, or just foisting your problems onto someone else?
In the climax of Tokyo Godfathers, the three godfathers hand the child over to a woman whom they believe to be the child’s mother, only for her to be revealed as a hysterical woman who has abducted the child out of grief over a miscarriage. The woman, someone who is simply desperate for a miracle to absolve their struggles, is someone the godfathers understand perhaps better then anyone else in the film. They have also realized that their pain is no longer an excuse for them to run from their pasts, or make it anyone else’s problem but their own. It is through this connection that they are able to talk down the abductor and save the child’s life. They are rewarded for this with the opportunity to lift themselves out of homelessness and to restart their lives, their final miracle.
From where I am right now, I can’t say that what my parents did was a mistake, not for everything they’ve given me despite their struggles. Just as they faced their past and chose to move forward, I endeavor to do the same. All that said, I see now how much I had written off as just happenstance really was a kind of miracle, and how many of those miracles were responsible for my upbringing. In fact, a miraculous and ineffable probability is in a sense, simply another definition for a miracle. Under that definition, I think there is something I can be truly thankful for. I am thankful for the miracle of my family.