8 Chapters
Medium 9781523094578

5: Listening

Murphy-Shigematsu, Stephen Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deep in the present moment and feeling fully alive.1

THICH NHAT HANH

When I was told that I had been assigned a person named Yoshiko Meyers to visit, the questions began. What do you talk about with someone who is dying? Would they be interested in small talk about the weather outside their room? Does the news hold any importance for them? Would they like to talk about their religious beliefs? But what if they have none? Would they want to talk about their feelings?

And if they wanted to talk about death, what could I possibly say?

I was a hospice volunteer in Boston, a young man on my way to graduate school with the goal of becoming a psychologist. I thought that I was supposed to talk with Yoshiko about dying, and while I reassured myself that I was ready, I knew that I was not. I had been assigned to her because of our shared cultural backgrounds. I tried to understand what it meant to be Japanese and facing death. My grandmother talked openly about dying, mostly about acceptance, saying shikata ga nai, it can’t be helped, we all have to die. She also spoke of her desire to avoid meiwaku, burdening the family. I thought that I should ask Yoshiko how she felt about dying, but never found the right moment.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781523094578

2: Vulnerability

Murphy-Shigematsu, Stephen Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Life is like a long journey with a heavy burden. Let thy step be slow and steady, that thou stumble not. Persuade thyself that imperfection and troubles are the natural lot of mortals, and there will be no room for discontent, neither for despair. . . . Forbearance is the root of quietness and assurance forever. Look upon the wrath of the enemy. If thou knowest only what it is to conquer, and knowest not what it is like to be defeated, woe unto thee; it will fare ill with thee. Find fault with thyself rather than with others.1

IEYASU TOKUGAWA

I can’t remember exactly when, but at some time in my childhood, Saturdays became boxing day in our house. Dad would wait until Mom went out shopping with the girls and, as soon as they were gone, he would jump up, push the table and chairs against the wall, and the lesson would begin.

“Okay, Harry.” (He always called me Harry, though my name is Steve. I asked him why once and he said, “I don’t know; my name’s Fred, but my dad called me Steve.”)

See All Chapters
Medium 9781523094578

4: Connectedness

Murphy-Shigematsu, Stephen Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend

The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.

Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.1

PAT PARKER

The boy in my high school yearbook photo is dressed in a summer kimono, a matching headband tied around his forehead, eyes closed, arms folded, sitting serenely with his back to a blazing fireplace. It was my choice of how I wanted to be photographed and seen by others. The white boys in my school saw me as “almost black,” because they had some idea of what it meant to be black, and no idea of what it might mean to be Japanese. Neither did I, but I imagined myself as a cool, tough, calm samurai, as that was the only good image I had, thanks to glorious stories from childhood about my great-grandfather.

The photo caption read: “He represents an easy balance between East and West.” Those were not my choice of words. I felt nothing like an easy balance. I was off center, romantically searching for understanding who I was and where I belonged. The two seemed inseparable, yet vital to finding my place in the human family. In what would prove to be a tortuous, twisting path, a never-ending journey, I was on my way home.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781523094578

6: Acceptance

Murphy-Shigematsu, Stephen Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and attend them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of all its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.1

RUMI

Shizuko was 43 years old, in the mid-stages of ALS and losing voluntary control of her body. The first time I sat by her bedside and talked to her, I became aware of an intense feeling of fear inside myself. I wondered what it was like for her, living inside that crippled body. I struggled to be mindful, but kept imagining how beautiful she must have been and how tragic it was that her body was now being ravaged by such a debilitating disease.

Despite her deterioration, Shizuko always smiled when we were together. I was confused and doubted her sincerity at first. Why wasn’t she crying? Why wasn’t she raging against her cruel fate? Instead, she expressed gratitude and appreciation for the doctors, the nurses, her family, me, and the good life with which she was blessed.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781523094578

7: Gratitu de

Murphy-Shigematsu, Stephen Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

We learned about gratitude and humility — that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean . . . and we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.1

MICHELLE OBAMA

Once a great talker, my Grandmother Mitsu spoke less and less as she neared the end of her 111 years on Earth. I knew that I would see her again, but as we were leaving her for what they thought would be their last visit, my wife and sister became emotional and apologized for not visiting more often. But Grandmother just waved her hand as if to say, “no worries, it’s okay,” putting her hands prayerfully together in gassho, saying arigatou, an expression of thanks, and bowing her head.

When she fell into a coma and was “nearing the mountaintop,” I rushed back to Japan to see her. When I called her name, she opened her eyes to see me and soon after refused food and water, and within hours there was silence. “She waited for you,” the priest told me.

See All Chapters

See All Chapters