The Phonebooth at the Edge of The World by Laura Imai Messina (and, give-away of this exceptional book)

A telephone booth in a garden, a disconnected phone on which you could talk to your lost loved ones. Could something like that really console people?

It seems hard to imagine that a phonebooth with no working phone would attract thousands of people every year, people on a pilgrimage to seek what they have lost. To speak to those who have gone before them. It was established in the garden of Bell Gardia, at the foot of Kujira-yama, just next to the city of Otsuchi, which is one of the places most severely struck by the tsunami of March 11, 2011.

Find the site of Bell Gardia, in Japan, here.

Laura Imai Messina has given us a beautiful story of Yui, who lost her mother and daughter in the tsunami, and Takeshi, whose wife died from cancer. Takeshi’s young daughter, Hana, has been mute from grief. The three of them form a bond, though, despite the losses that they have endured in each of their families. Despite the confusion and pain that they have suffered.

What I loved most about this novel, which could have easily slid into despair and sorrow, was its hope. I firmly believe that we are called to joy, and not to abandon hope, in the most grievous of situations. If we do not look for it, surely we are lost. So it was that I found myself recording Messina’s thoughts as I read, which I list for you here:

“And when happiness is a thing, anything that threatens its safety is the enemy. Even if it’s something impalpable like the wind, or the rain pouring down from above.”

“We need to possess joy in abundance before we can bestow it upon somebody else.”

“Perhaps pain is what gives our lives depth, she pondered…”

”…when people disappear from our everyday lives, it doesn’t mean that they vanish completely.”

“Yet, when it came to choosing between fear and trust, Akiko always opted for the latter…Being afraid of life and people only makes you weaker.”

”It was an act of pure faith to pick up the receiver, dial a number, to be answered by a wall of silence and speak anyway. Faith was the key to it all.”

”Grief, Yui had once told him, is something you ingest every day, like a sandwich cut into small pieces, gently chewed and then calmly swallowed. Digestion was slow. And so, Takeshi thought, joy must work the same way.”

This is a beautiful novel, fitting for all of us. For even if we have not suffered the pain of losing loved ones in the tsunami, we surely bear pain of another kind. I like to find ways to solve it in the books that I read, and I have found some of the most gentle, and comforting, strategies within the pages of The Phonebooth At the Edge of The World.

The publisher has given me permission to give a copy away (U.S. only, please). If you would like to be considered for the give-away, please let me know in a comment below.

Sunday Salon: Gratitude Documemted 2020

It is a more difficult year than usual to document our gratitude, and yet, with the arrival of November (and Thanksgiving!), and the tumult we face before the year is quite finished, I believe it is all the more necessary to do so.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

~1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

It is hard to give thanks when I am worried, when the worries seem to pile up unabated around me. But, I know that when I give thanks I am able to look toward the good and focus on hope rather than doubt. It helps me to document gratitude within a book to which I can refer on especially dark days.

The photos above are only the beginning of what I have prepared for November. They show a little book I made, with the help of a kit from Illustrated Faith. (I believe you can still buy some pieces for it here.) There is a prompt for each day, under which I have written the verse. On the back I will make it more personal, writing in it like a journal pointing to specific events from this year which have been especially lovely. Like having coffee with my parents several times a week. Walking with my husband through the fall colors at the Arboretum. Getting a text from my son that says he is fine.

Will you document gratitude this year? Will you join in me in looking for the beauty amidst the trial? Let us find the good and give thanks for it.

Sunday Salon: Reflections on the Week That Was

I added a new insert into my Midori Passport this week. I felt it was important to document the week, the arrival of the Coronavirus and how it has affected the world in which we live.

These thoughts are only my thoughts, of course, which I recorded for my own memory. My own sorting out. Wakako, of Baum-kuchen, said in her newsletter of March 5: “Whether it’s a messy scribble or neat handwriting makes no difference in the power of writing as long as we keep writing. I hope you write to remember. I hope you write to heal. And I hope you write to dream and grow.”

I share these thoughts from the past week to see if they resemble your thoughts. To share mine. To document a moment in time I have never seen before.

On February 28, I mention the Coronavirus for the first time in my journal, likening it to Stephen King’s novel, The Stand.

On March 10, the news declares more than 80,000 people are infected with the Coronavirus, and Italy has shut down. “It isn’t effecting the U.S. quite so hard,” I write.

On March 13, I learn that Wheaton College has closed. All the students are being sent home; my cousin’s daughter is clearing out her dorm room. The Irish dinner that my sister-in-law and I had been planning for a big family party is cancelled, the Forest Walk at the Morton Arboretum is cancelled, the Wade Center at Wheaton College is cancelled, and even my small book club is cancelled.

On March 14, my husband comes home from grocery shopping at Jewel and tells me the dairy case is empty. No cream. No milk. People are hoarding groceries, and Twitter has clips of women fighting over toilet paper. My son says, “I need more paper towel for my apartment.” “Why?” I ask. “Just use rags and wash them.” “Oh,” he says. “Right. There’s no shortage of laundry detergent.”

On March 15 we stream church service live, and learn that the Leaders’ meeting for Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) must also be streamed on Zoom. Our pastor preaches on John 14: “Let not your heart be troubled.” “Let,” he says, “is a permissive word.” In other words, “Do not allow your heart to be troubled. Don’t give it permission to embrace anxiety.”

My parents go to Whole Foods and bring a carton of cream for me, and a gallon of milk for our elderly neighbor. “There are plenty of things in the grocery stores,” my father says. “You just have to know where to look.” He scorns public distress.

”Self quarantine” has become a common phrase now. Meetings of more than 25 people are forbidden; restaurants, bars, libraries, health clubs are all closed, and Tucker Carlson warns that small businesses will crumble.

I go to have a manicure on March 16, and the shop is almost empty. The girls are dependent on their tips, and so I leave MyMy triple what I usually do, hoping it is somewhat helpful, feeling when I get home that it is not.

President Trump called Sunday, March 15 a National Day of Prayer. Franklin Graham is taking Samaritan’s Purse to Italy to set up a make shift hospital with 68 beds. My sister-in-law who works at Edward Hospital says people are stealing face masks and wipes from the Emergency room.

I go to see Dr. D. for an appointment I had made weeks ago, and I must stand, not sit, in his waiting room. The receptionist is wearing blue plastic gloves as she works at her desk.

At first I felt relieved about so much being cancelled. “Free time to read!” I think. And then, I go to Trader Joe’s, and I’m subdued because shelves are bare. A big sign at the entrance says, “Out of consideration for others, do not take more than two of any one item.”

All kinds of churches are calling for fasting, and I read in my daily Bible reading this verse from Isaiah, reminding us we are to live our fasting with care for one another:

”Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen; to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the the naked to clothe him, and not turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and and the Lord will answer, you will cry for help and He will say Here am I.” ~Isaiah 58:6-9 (ESV)

My mother bakes trays of her oatmeal raisin cookies and takes them to all their neighbors.

The thing is, no one knows how big this pandemic is going to get, or how long it will last. The Edward Fitness Club said ”Closed until March 30.” District 204 has planned e-learning until April 2. But, no one knows if things will be better by then. And, we must face a troubled economy when all this goes away.

On March 20 the streets and shops are virtually empty as people practice terms I’d never heard of a month ago because Governor Pritzger called for Illinois to shut down: #social distancing, #shelter-in-place, #self-quarantine, #life in isolation. As things get more and more restrictive, it is important not to lose hope.

”Meredith,” my father says to me yesterday. “There is a beginning, a middle and an end to everything. This is the beginning of the end (of the virus).” We can only trust that is true, for the saddest thing I heard last night was that hundreds of people in Italy died all alone, as they were required to be in isolation.


These snippets are from my week. I wonder if they resemble anything like yours? I wonder if you will join me in embracing hope, rather than anxiety, trust rather than fear?

Bless you all, Meredith