It’s December 8th. That’s a significant date for me for three reasons. I’ll list the stuff I always think of on this day in order that they usually occur to me.
John Lennon was killed on December 8, 1980. I’m sure everybody in the “blogosphere” has already written about that by now. The day Lennon died I was just starting 11th grade and I was already a Beatle geek. It’s weird now when I think about the reactions I used to get as a teenager buying Beatles records. I remember a few years earlier, the clerks at Recordland in Rolling Acres Mall in Akron being stunned and amazed that a teenager was not only buying a copy of Revolver but actually knew enough to buy the imported version instead of the US pressing that had fewer songs. That would have been less than ten years after the Beatles broke up and the album itself would have only been about 12 or 13 years old. That’s more recent than the last Nirvana album is today, and I can’t imagine anyone being the least bit surprised by a contemporary 15 year-old liking Nirvana. I don’t know what that signifies, really, if it signifies anything. At the time I just thought that all contemporary music — with the notable exception of KISS — blew. It took a while for punk to finally reach the backwater burg I lived in. By the time Lennon died, though, I was already well into punk. But I never lost my affection for The Beatles.
I first heard about Lennon’s death the following morning when it appeared on the front page of the Wadsworth News Banner, the local paper. I thought it had to be some kind of joke. I had to see it on several other newspapers and TV before I accepted it was true. I still have trouble accepting it’s true. Just recently the contract Lennon signed with Geffen Records in 1980 came to light. Apparently he’d included a clause that allowed him to do future records with The Beatles independently of his obligations to Geffen. So, obviously he must have been thinking about getting the group back together. It’s a real shame that never happened.
The other significant thing about December 8th is that it is the day on which Zen Buddhists celebrate Buddha becoming enlightened. Tradition has it that this was the day Buddha had his great moment of profound insight there under the Bodhi tree sometime around about 500 B.C. A lot of people in the Zen tradition commemorate this event by having a period of intensive Zazen practice for a week. It’s called the Rohatsu Sesshin. I’ve never participated in one myself. But it always sounded like fun.
I don't know if the tradition of celebrating Buddha's enlightenment day on December 8th is any more valid than the tradition of celebrating Jesus' birthday on December 25th. It might be, since the early Buddhists were a bit more meticulous about keeping such records than the early Christians. But I've never seen much discussion about it either way. Buddhists in general tend not to be overly concerned with whether their history is "literally true." Whatever works, works.
December 8th is also the day on which the Japanese consider the attack on Pearl Harbor to have taken place. To us December 7th is the “Day That Will Live In Infamy.” But, because the international dateline is between Japan and Hawaii, as far as the Japanese are concerned, it happened on the 8th. I didn’t realize this until I moved to Japan — where I lived for 11 years. I once asked to a co-worker upon noting it was December 8th if she knew what day it was. At the time, I just wondered if she’d know it was Buddha’s enlightenment day or if she’d only remember Lennon’s death. I was surprised when she got kind of sheepish about it and finally answered that she knew very well it was Pearl Harbor day.
Most Japanese people seem basically embarrassed by their role in WWII. Of course there are all kinds of issues related to this. But, I’m afraid I’ve never seen the point in endless debates about the matter. I’m no more interested in pushing it than my Japanese friends and relatives are.
Finally, December 8th is usually the day my dad remembers to tell one of his favorite jokes.
Did you hear about the guy who was half Japanese and half African-American?
Every December 7th he attacks Pearl Bailey!