8 Chapters
Medium 9781523094578

8: Service

Murphy-Shigematsu, Stephen Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

As a human being I acknowledge that my well-being depends on others, and caring for others’ well-being is a moral responsibility I take seriously. It’s unrealistic to think that the future of humanity can be achieved on the basis of prayer or good wishes alone; what we need is to take action. Therefore, my first commitment is to contribute to human happiness as best I can.1

THE DALAI LAMA

When we realized that she could no longer live alone in Japan, we brought Grandmother to the United States to spend her last years. After all, she was 99, and how long could she possibly live? Better to die among those she loved the most, we reasoned. She could pass her remaining time in peace and would be able to die surrounded by her only child and her grandchildren.

Since she had never lived in America, we decided it would be best to have a trial and tell her that she could return to Japan if she decided that it was the best thing to do. But since she could no longer live alone, should she decide to go back, she would have to enter a nursing home. I escorted her from her home in Matsuyama and she moved in with my mother and older sister in Massachusetts. I returned to Tokyo.

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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.

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1: Beginner’s Mind

Murphy-Shigematsu, Stephen Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few. . . . When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless. . . . Then we are always true to ourselves, in sympathy with all beings, and can actually practice.1

SHUNRYU SUZUKI

Fresh out of college, without a job, and needing some money to pay the rent, I reluctantly became a substitute teacher in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, public schools. Substitute teaching in inner city public schools in the United States was a taxing job, with the goal of simply surviving to the end of the day. The tough city kids were too much for me. They ate me up from the ring of the opening bell and spit me out when it mercifully rang after last period, signaling that the punishment was over. I was desperate for anything that would help me to do more than just make it through the day, and one morning while walking to a new school I got a brilliant idea.

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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.”)

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3: Authenticity

Murphy-Shigematsu, Stephen Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.1

AUDRE LORDE

When I was 10 years old we moved from a small city to a neighboring town in Massachusetts. The kids were really fascinated by me, because they’d never encountered an Asian before in real life. It didn’t bother them at all that I was only “half”; they thought I was the real deal.

One Saturday, some of the boys went to see Blue Hawaii, Elvis Presley’s latest film. I wasn’t invited. On Monday when I went to school they had a surprise for me — a new nickname.

I knew it wasn’t going to be Elvis but was dumbstruck when they gleefully announced they had found the perfect name for me — Ping Pong! Johnny explained that I reminded them of Elvis’s Chinese servant who, naturally, was named Ping Pong. Billy said it was just the best possible name for me. I wanted to tell them it was no good because I was Japanese, not Chinese, but knew it wouldn’t make any difference. I was saddled with Ping Pong for years, though they did mercifully shorten it to Ping.

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