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The Moeko Principle

I’d debated for a long time as to whether or not I would actually post the “Moeko’s Owl” story.

At that time, it was radically different from all the other editorials on the site. It was a very personal story and dealt with my ex, which was a very sensitive subject. And Moeko hadn’t done it for recognition or anything like that. For a while, I doubted if it was something I should share, especially since there were more than just a few people reading. In the end, I decided that if nothing else, it was a story worth telling.

Of all the other things on this site, the Moeko’s Owl story has gotten the biggest response. People have cried, changed their outlook on life even. People have remembered their own personal Moeko’s. Of everything else, it’s this story that seems to have the most profound effect on people.

But what about the girl herself?

After I got the owl, I actually didn’t get to speak with Moeko for a few months. Even if I went to her class, I was busy with other students, and she never seemed to stick around long enough for me to talk to her. I tried to make myself available for her, but she never came. I don’t want to clearly play favorites among the students, but given the chance I would have made an effort. But I didn’t have any chances. For a while, I wondered if I’d done something wrong – maybe I wasn’t as appreciative of the owl as I should have been?

One day after class, the students were all talking to the teacher about an upcoming test. Since I usually go back to the teachers’ room with the teacher, I hung back and waited for him. I noticed Moeko, who sat in the back of the room, slowly inching her way forward. After a full minute, she’d only closed the distance between us by half. I realized at this point that she hadn’t been avoiding me or anything like that – she was just terribly shy. “Today’s pretty hot, isn’t it?” I called out to her. She nodded in agreement, and finally came closer. We talked as she walked back with me to the teachers’ room, even though that was a trip downstairs she didn’t need to make. I found out that she, like me, had a penchant for falling asleep in class because she stayed up late (she reads books until 1AM or later). I was telling her some of my favorite sleeping in class strategies, and she told me hers – “I put my hair in front of my face, so people can’t see my eyes. But then the boys call me Sadako (from The Ring).” I told her the next time they call her that, threaten to crawl out of their TV’s and steal their Playstations.

From then on, I was able to talk to Moeko more. She never came right out and approached me – stayed behind a little longer after class finished, loitered in a hallway she knew I’d be walking down, things like that. When I caught this, I’d make sure to say something light which would start a conversation.

When Moeko became a sannensei, she must have realized she wouldn’t have so many opportunities to talk to me. I don’t go to the sannensei’s classes that often, and they’re pretty busy as they are cramming for their high school entrance exams. So she came up with a way around this – note writing. She would write me a letter, and then come to the teachers’ room at lunch or between classes and give it to me. I’d write her a response and give it to her between classes. She always wrote me in English, so I wrote her in English back. I imagine this was also a good way to get around her shyness.

I went to the school’s Cultural Awareness Presentation Day. I went with my Hot Nurse friend – she didn’t work at that school anymore, but she had the day free and wanted to see the students again. During an intermission, Moeko passed me another note. Hot Nurse noticed it, and I explained a bit about our note exchange. Hot Nurse spotted her talking to some girls, and asked me if they were her friends. Moeko had mentioned them in one of her notes, so I said that they were. “Oh, I’m very glad to hear that!” Hot Nurse says, relieved. She explains – Moeko loves to read books, but part of why she does is because she doesn’t have much else. For a while, she had absolutely no friends, and was very lonely. “She used to come to the Nurse’s Room and talk to me about it.” Hot Nurse said. “She cried many times.” I hadn’t known that. I realized that more than anything else, Moeko was a lonely little girl who wanted a friend. I still can’t play favorites, but since then, I’ve made it a point to be in a position where Moeko and I would cross paths more often.

Moeko’s birthday was in November. I wanted to give her something – something that reflected how moved and appreciative I was of her owl. But it was difficult – I had to find something that would still respect the student/teacher relationship boundaries. And something that wouldn’t make the other kids upset or jealous. I would have liked to have made something for her, as she did for me, but I have little to no talent in handcrafts. The day I broke my collarbone was actually the day of her birthday, so that also limited any ability to make something for her.

I finally decided on a book – my favorite book when I was around her age, Charlotte’s Web. I gave her the English version, along with an explanatory note – “This is my favorite book. It’s a good book about friendship. I’ve read it many times. So I want to share it with you. It’s in English, so maybe a little difficult to understand now. But I know one day you will be able to read it. I look forward to the day when we can talk about this book.” I also gave her a card – as she’d done for me, I did my best (despite the broken collarbone) and drew assorted pictures inside of it (she’d asked me in one of her notes to me if she could see my drawings, even though I told her I was terrible). I also wrote the message – “I am happy. Thank you. I want you to be happy, too.” Moeko was impressed with my drawings, and said she would do her best with the book, even if it did take awhile.

For my birthday this year, she gave me another card with her drawings inside and a wonderful message. She promised a present later, now was difficult because the entrance exams were coming up. I told her not to worry about a present – she’d already done more than enough. In that class, she’d noticed me writing on the board with my right hand. “Oh, is your collarbone healed?” She asked me in English. I told her that it mostly was. “Oh, I’m very happy to hear that!” she said, and she gave the biggest smile I’ve ever seen from her. She quickly turned serious though. “But you know, the accident was all your fault.” I told her I didn’t realize I had an older sister, and she smiled again.

Moeko doesn’t know about her own fame, or just how many people she’s reached through her simple actions. I’m not going to tell her. I think she would be embarrassed more than anything. But, I know she didn’t do what she did for personal gain or recognition. A lot of people have asked me to pass along thanks, or gifts even to Moeko, and I just can’t do that. Rather than showering her with appreciation, I think the best thing to do is remember what she did, and do that for someone else. Personally, I call this the Moeko Principle. Ever since getting the owl, I’ve taken special care to notice the kids who haven’t given any reason to be noticed at all. Just because they don’t stand out, that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be acknowledged as well. It doesn’t have to be much – looking over the quiet girl in the back’s English assignment, telling her she did a good job. Asking a shy boy how his soccer club practices are going, or even just remembering a student’s name. Something to show them that at least one person gives a damn that they exist. It’s not a hand-crafted owl, but hopefully it’s enough.

Moeko will graduate from junior high school soon. In one of her recent notes, she addressed this – “I will graduate from this school in March. But we will still be friends, right?” My response to her? “Don’t say silly things … of course we will.” That’s a promise I can easily keep.

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Categories: Gaijin Smash
  1. Melfice
    July 16, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    I know this is from a LOOOOONG time ago, when you did still teach, but…

    If it weren’t for teachers like you, following the Moeko Principle, I wouldn’t have survived my time in high school. I probably would have gone insane, or worse.
    I’m still not convinced I’m not damaged mentally in some way, but it could have been much worse.

    So… via you: Thank you teachers, everywhere, who take an interest in the quiet kids.

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