It’s time for us to entrust things to others, not to be the ones to whom things are entrusted. It’s troublesome, but we can’t just keep complaining. Eventually you’ll be the one treating others to ramen. And you’ll be called ‘Naruto-sensei’ or something. We can’t just be rugrats (gaki) forever. Not if we want to become exceptional ninja like Asuma and Jiraiya-sama, that is.
– Nara Shikamaru, Naruto Shippuuden, episode 153
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
– Paul the apostle, II Cor 1:3-4 (NASB)
In my efforts to get caught up on Shippuuden sometime before I die, I had already been missing my favorite character in the series. Shikamaru had been absent for dozens of episodes, after all. But I couldn’t have asked for a finer speech from him, when he finally did appear again. I think the most powerful thing about Shikamaru’s speech, perhaps even more than its content, was the position from which he delivered it.
WARNING! Spoilers ahead! Proceed with caution if you have not watched at least until episode 133 of Naruto Shippuuden.
Shikamaru seemed to think he was displaying a brave front after his teacher Asuma was killed in battle, even though it served only to bottle up his feelings. Back in episode 82, his father saw fit to go to extraordinary measures in order to help his unwilling son to open up. When Shikamaru finally exploded, releasing his pent-up grief, anger, and despair at the loss of his beloved master, it was all due to his father’s patient love, however little Shikamaru may have appreciated it at the time. Was the resulting change in Shikamaru’s life worth the howls and sobs of agony that must have made his father’s heart ache also?
To find the answer, we must fast forward to a time when Naruto faced the same kind of loss. Wandering about in a daze, Naruto has all the hot-blooded passion of any shounen anime hero, and wears his heart on his sleeve. Enter Shikamaru, who is now uniquely qualified to counsel and encourage Naruto. As soon as I saw him appear, I thought: Surely we’re about to see Shikamaru comfort Naruto with the comfort with which he himself was comforted!
The odd thing, or so I thought while rewatching this part of episode 153, is how terribly uncomforting, even cruel, Shikamaru comes across. Did he have to be quite this blunt? Doesn’t he of all people know how much his friend hurts right now? I thought. No doubt some of this has to do with the respective personalities of the characters in question, but I wonder whether a lot of it comes across that way to me simply because I am not Naruto. And while I would never suggest that the exact wording one uses is of no consequence when one offers comfort based on one’s own experience, I also wonder whether it is the only thing of consequence. Surely there is something to be said for having the courage, and the love for another, to say something, to do our best given our unique (and flawed) personalities, and to depend on God to work his own comfort through our words and actions. And I suspect that, in a way, the greater blessing is not for the one who receives the comfort, but for the one who gives it.
Judging from Naruto’s response, it worked. I have never lost anyone who held quite the same position in my life as Jiraiya held in Naruto’s, or Asuma in Shikamaru’s, so I can’t relate very well. But this much I do know: when by God’s providence I find myself in Shikamaru’s situation, or even in his father’s situation some dozens of episodes before, I can only hope that by God’s grace I act as they did. That I can somehow find the courage to speak out of my own experience, and out of genuine love for another person. That somehow, even for me, what I say may be what Solomon in Proverbs 25:11 referred to as “apples of gold in settings of silver.”
And I hope it will be the same for you too.
On rewatching the part of episode 82 that I referenced, I realize that this episode needs an essay even more than episode 153, though I might have to leave it to someone else as I don’t think this hopeless Shikamaru fan’s heart can take it. What a wise and loving father! And as in episode 153, how cruel real love sometimes looks at first!
The verb Shikaku uses to tell his son to release his pent-up emotions is 吐き出す hakidasu, which means “to vomit” or “to spit out.” And then, in what amounts to a double entendre in either language, “I’ll pick up your pieces,” says Shikaku to his son.
If you want to see as vivid and bittersweet a portrayal of a father’s tough love to his son as I have ever seen in anime, then it is Shippuuden 82 that you want to rewatch. But bring a Kleenex. Bring five or six if you’re another hopeless Shikamaru fan.