“Don’t give up what you want most for what you want right now.” ~ Lynn Mitchell
Self-control’s a cruel irony. It demands we die daily to immediate desires in order to live fully in the dream we aspire toward. That’s like saying “we die so that we may live,” a notion that Christians are no doubt familiar with. Believe me when I say it’s as hard as it sounds.
Anyone who’s struggled to quit a habit, lose weight, obtain a degree or promotion, or improve their skills will tell you that keeping an eye on the prize is the key to achieving it. They’ll also tell you that it’s often easier to cave to your desires in the here-and-now than it is to push them aside in favor of the bigger picture. Who hasn’t divulged in a double-chocolate-truffle-sprinkle sundae and ruined their calorie quota for the day? Or who hasn’t traded a crucial exam-prep-session for a day hanging out with friends?
But what if the stakes were higher? What if even the smallest “cave in” meant your dream was gone forever and could never be obtained?
In a one-shot manga called Hotarubi no Mori e (Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light), a girl named Hotaru faces these exact consequences. At the age of six, she becomes lost in the woods and meets a mysterious young man named Gin during her annual summer stay at her grandfather’s cottage. When Gin offers to guide her out of the forest, she’s so grateful that she tries to pounce him, but he evades her would-be hugs, warning her that the moment she touches him, he’ll disappear… forever.
Hotaru’s young—a bit too young to grasp the severity of her actions. “What does disappear mean?” she asks childishly. Gin explains that he’s a yokai who has been cursed by the mountain god, and that if he is ever touched by a human, he’ll be destroyed. This story is partly true, but Gin hesitates to tell Hotaru the whole of it, as she’s too young to grasp the meaning.
The two spend the rest of summer together before Hotaru is forced to return to her parent’s home. She promises to come back next year and every year thereafter so that she can spend more time with her new friend, Gin.
Of course, with the passage of time, Hotaru matures, though Gin remains un-aging, and the friendship transforms into something deeper. She begins to long for Gin’s presence, and, more than anything, she wants to touch him—an action that can only symbolize a desire for a more intimate relationship, for love. Gin, too, begins to feel the weight of Hotaru’s absence, and the summer days feel shorter and shorter with each passing year.
More than anything, they desire a deeper relationship with each other, but the painful truth persists—the moment Gin is touched, he will be gone forever, along with their growing bond.
What strikes me most about this one-shot is its emphasis on waiting for “the right time,” which plays into the virtue of self-control. Both Gin and Hotaru choose to exercise restraint in their relationship, even though “touch” is the one thing they want more than anything else. Surely, they could have embraced or touched at any time—Gin tells Hotaru as much—but that would have permanently signaled the end of their relationship.
Rather than squander their time together, though, Gin and Hotaru choose to cherish the length of time they are able to spend with each other, and make memories each summer. Rather than be discontented with what they seemingly can’t have, they take the time to get to know each other on a deeply emotional level, saving the physical intimacy for the right time.
That time finally comes one summer on the year that Hotaru is closest to Gin’s age. After explaining the truth about his past—essentially that Gin was a human child abandoned in the woods, but pitied by the yokai and granted immortality in order to save his life—Gin asks Hotaru to attend the annual Yokai Festival with him.
Hotaru wonders what took Gin so long to ask, seeing as the festival happens every year.
“Hotaru was young, so I was afraid you would be scared,” Gin explains. “Can you come out tonight? I’ve been wanting to bring you.”
Gin, too, has had to exert self-control. It’s revealed here that he wanted to take Hotaru to the festival since the time they met, but he feared that the timing was not right—that she’d be scared, that the event would become a negative experience for her instead of a memorable one, and so he waited. And because he waits, he’s able to introduce Hotaru to an unforgettable evening, where she not only experiences his culture for the first time, but also where they have their first official date as a couple.
By evening’s end, it becomes clear that this will be Hotaru and Gin’s final summer together, as Gin makes layered statements about not being in his usual spot, waiting for Hotaru, next summer. A child runs past the two and trips, causing Gin, who thinks the child is a yokai in disguise, to grab him by the arm. The child, though, is human, and Gin’s body begins to fade.
It marks the end of the couple’s relationship, but neither of them grieve. Gin smiles for the first time, as Hotaru finally embraces him and he vanishes forever.
Summer becomes understandably painful for Hotaru in the years to follow. She’s spending them without Gin, after all, but her grief is mixed with joy. Because she waited for that special night to finally touch her beloved, she’s able to look back without regrets—without “what if’s” and “why did I’s.”
“The warmth that still remains in my hands, and the memories of summers, will remain with me forever,” she later reflects.
At the beginning of this article, I posted a quote from Lynn Mitchell: “Don’t give up what you want most for what you want right now.” I don’t think self-control can be summed up much better than that.
For Hotaru and Gin, this self-control becomes vital for their precious relationship. It’s what causes them to “wait” for the destined time to share the most important moment of their lives together. In order for that to happen, they allow many factors to fall into place, and Gin, especially, exercises a lot of wisdom in allowing Hotaru to “grow up” before asking her to invest in a romantic relationship with him. It would have been easy for him to take advantage of her young and whimsical mind, but he clearly cares about her more than that. Instead of rushing her off to a “date” at the annual Yokai Festival, he waits until she’s of age, which allows her to fully enjoy it, resulting in a perfect night for both of them.
Hotaru’s self-control is equally as admirable. As a child, she’s too immature to realize the danger of touching Gin, but as she matures, she goes out of her way not to make contact with him, and even weeps after he nearly touches her to break her fall from a tree. Because she waits until the time is ripe, Hotaru is able to look back at her time with Gin without the regret or guilt that she cut their time short, simply because she could not control herself. Instead, the summer time brings with it fond, nostalgic memories or love, warmth, and happiness.
The Bible speaks a lot about temperance. The story of the Prodigal Son is, in large part, a look at a character who exhibits no self-control and squanders his inheritance money.
In looking at Hotarubi no Mori e, though, I see more of a parallel to abstinence—sexual abstinence, particularly. Hotaru and Gin are not able to physically touch one another without damaging their relationship, at least not before Hotaru is of age and they’ve completed the duration of their “time” together. Touch speaks of intimacy, and while the events of this manga are far from sexual in nature, the imagery parallels the Bible’s description of marriage; namely, that it should be undefiled, and that physical intimacy should come after official commitment. (Hebrews 13:4)
Marriage is a beautiful thing, and God loves it. Because He loves it so much, though, He set out special guidelines for us to govern our marriages by. This is the strongest form of relationship that one person is capable of having with another, and, because of that, abstinence from physical intimacy before marriage pays tribute to one’s desire for total commitment–the ultimate form of respect to show toward another human being whom you romantically love.
But regardless of whether we’re talking about abstinence from sex, bad habits, eating junk food, or even just self-discipline in working toward a goal, when we keep our eyes on the prize, we can’t be distracted with the little baubles that try to snag our attention along the way. Self-control is about remembering what you truly want and not allowing anything else to cheapen that goal.