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The Island is about four miles in diameter, and most people live directly on the sea. A mile or so inland, a small forest occupies the center. The forest provides the wood needed for boats, masts, and houses, as well as firewood. The villagers make sure to conserve the trees; so, they only use materials essential for survival and never waste. The forest also supplies fresh water. Trees absorb water into their roots, and the underground root system makes the soil stable enough to support an ecosystem. Shrubs and ferns grow on the edge of a freshwater pond deep in the woods. Everyday, a couple of villagers, mostly children, make the hike into the forest to bring back freshwater. Today, however, someone else sat by the pond.
The lone man rested cross-legged facing the clear water. Unseen birds chirped overhead and leaves swayed in the summer breeze. Little bugs, pond-skaters, skimmed along the surface, leaving tiny ripples. The man silently watched and listened. Compared to the idyllic scene before him, the man's mind was anything but tranquil. He took a deep breath and sighed.
Never before had he felt such a potent mixture of fear and excitement. Both at twenty-five years of age, Ren and his wife, Fay, lived happily together in the village. Instead of fishing, the two earned a living by brewing sake. On an elevated piece of land, Ren and Fay built their house and cultivated shuzo rice terraces. The combination of Ren's harvesting and Fay's brewing earned them great recognition and praise from the community. Their sake brought the bar back to life, and the village began to annually celebrate festivals of harvest.
After Ren and his workers harvest and polish the shuzo rice, Fay brews and steams the grains into a mash, careful to not overcook, or else the tastes will mix too early. A tedious process, she regulates the temperature of the fire, applying air when needed. Over the next few days, she adds water to the mash in a three-step cycle. After that, she adds a touch of yeast to begin the fermentation process that lasts two weeks. Finally, the sake mash solid is filtered out and the alcohol is poured into sealed bottles for storage. Deep underneath the terraces, the sake matures in cool air and fully completes the process after nine months. Such a laborious process requires the attention of more than one person; so, many girls of the village help Fay in the brewing process.
Compared to the rest of the village, Ren and Fay live reasonably well in a spacious wooden home fit with furniture and windows. Every night, they thanked the spirits for their generosity. Secretly, they planned to leave the island and chase their future. The young lovers wanted to see the world and travel to new places. They knew one day they would sail away towards brighter horizons. Ren and Fay thought they couldn't have been happier. The universe, once again, rewarded them with another great fortune when they discovered Fay was pregnant.
Nine months later, Ren sat cross-legged by the familiar pond. He tried his hardest to clear his mind, but nothing worked. He was going to be a father! He knew he should feel unimaginably happy. He imagined raising his child, holding him or her in his lap, and whispering soft stories before bed. There is a kind of fatherly instinct in every man. In a different way, men are subtly gentle and giving. Men want to protect and care for their children, sacrificing everything for them. It's not like motherhood; it's harder to describe. But at that moment, Ren wished with all his heart to be a father. He imagined holding the child's tiny hand in his own, bringing him or her to the pond to count the cattails, and sailing off towards that future he always dreamed about.
Every time he thought about being a father, the doubt returned.
What if he turned out to be a terrible father?
What if his child hated him?
What if he couldn't handle the responsibility?
He didn't know if he was ready. Next to that silent pond he sat, mixing thoughts, nervously contemplating every situation. They say the labor process is painful for the mother, but it also takes it's toll on the powerless fathers.
Lilies floated on the surface of the water, and white lotus flowers slowly drifted. Ren tenderly dipped his hand into the water and picked up a white lotus bud. He was careful not to bend the petals when he held it in his cupped hands. The slender white petals radiated from the golden center in perfect symmetry. He admired the white lotus' simple, fragile beauty. It came first as a small revelation as he held the flower. Just like he gently picked up the lotus, he would be even more careful with his child. Handling and raising a child is not so different than holding a white lotus in cupped hands; it requires patience and care. With the same grace as he picked it up, Ren let the white lotus back into the pond. Then, he dusted himself off and headed back to the village, readily taking his first steps into a new future.
The trail weaved through trees and bushes. The canopy shaded him from the harsh summer sun. As he neared the end, he heard the usual noises of the shops and dock, fishermen hoisting their nets and shopkeepers subsequently haggling for the best price. The trail opened up to the little village, and he immediately recognized his home situated next to the rice terraces. His heart skipped a beat as the distance closed.
When he arrived at the door, he hesitated.
"This is it. I'm ready to meet the person who will change the rest of my life."
He took a deep breath and opened the door.
At first, he could've sworn nobody was home: it was quiet.
Ren spoke out.
"Hey, is anybody home?"
It was really a stupid question considering both his wife and the midwives had to be there. It's not like they could simply leave.
A young midwife poked her head around the corner.
"Hush! The baby is sleeping!"
Ren's eyes widened and he motioned to the bedroom door.
The midwife nodded her consent.
Fay wore comfortable white robes tied loosely around the waist. Her brown hair was matted against her forehead, and she relaxed, eyes closed, with her head against a pillow: she was exhausted. When she noticed Ren's presence, her eyes fluttered open and she smiled. Her visible happiness made Ren feel lighter than air as he took his place at her bedside.
She whispered softly, "You really should meet our daughter."
His face lit up.
"We have a daughter?"
Fay pointed to the corner of the room. A small bundle rested in the wooden crib Ren had crafted.
"Go on, bring her over so we can be a family for the first time."
Ren cradled the newborn like he cradled the white lotus. He dipped his hands and delicately lifted her from the crib. She was so small and fragile; it felt like she weighed nothing. Upon being lifted, she began to cry, but when she looked at her father, she stopped. Instead, she laughed, giggled, actually. Her laugh was so heart-warming and innocent that Ren began to laugh, too. This marked the first of many times that Ren would laugh with his daughter. He brought the laughing infant to Fay, and then he truly looked at his child for the first time.
She was truly something else. Her small face turned up into a bright smile. Something about her seemed electric; Ren immediately noticed her wild spirit. But, her most surprising features were her eyes and hair. She gazed back at her parents with golden eyes like nothing they had ever seen before. Where her parents both had brown hair, she hair was pure white.
"She's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," said Ren.
Fay tickled the babies chin, provoking more laughter.
"What should we name her?"
"I've actually been thinking about names...and I want our daughter's name to mean something... something important. We've been so fortunate over the past few years. I want her name to be a reminder of how we should always be thankful for what he have."
Ren looked at his family, so full of love.
"I want to name her Grace."
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