Taking Great Care in Everything We do: an important lesson from my grandmother and my mother.

I was a very little girl when I recall my mom reciting a Haiku that her mother taught her:
“Tabi no koro moni isogare te kite te nua me data kari kere”

My Okaasan, was sewing a loose button on my jacket slowly and carefully repeating the phrase over and over. I recollect her delicate fingers carefully stitching frayed seams, well-worn hems and buttons of all shapes and sizes and I would watch in awe. Each time severing the end stitch between her beautiful smile happily returning the garment back to me reminding
“There you see anything important you do not rush.”

She explained when I was old enough to understand that important things take time. One must carefully sew on a button or stich a seam and always do so with prayer. My mother prayed often and nearly every moment of her incredible life most especially when it came to conscientious care of her seven children.
My mother learned the poem from her mother Waka Sato who died from pneumonia when my mom was only eleven years. My mother memories of her mother are still very vivid. My grandmother Waka was a gentle soul a devout vegetarian who loved animals so much she could not imagine harming them much less eating them. She was very petite and quiet but she shared vast knowledge with my mother about the world. Waka Sato was one of only two women at the time who graduated from a University in Chiba Ken. Women were not allowed advanced education in the 1800’s. My grandmother came from a wealthy family, aristocracy of sorts and she taught my mother everything she learned. It is amazing to think that perhaps the ancestors allowed such a breach of tradition so that my Grandmother could share her collegiate education solely to teach my mom about a larger world filled with diverse thought perspectives, cultural practices and the possibility of women influencing the trajectory of family, community and nations. My mother who never had the opportunity to study at a university passed on that knowledge to her seven children.

“Tabi no koro moni isogare te kite te nua me da ta kari kere” Waka would sing beautifully and rhythmically teaching my mother that even in the simplest of tasks we must not rush things, we must take great care in anything and everything we do. In Nihongo she taught my mother “In life you will face many things but you must discipline yourself never to rush any task or responsibility”
My mother Shizue heard the message loud and clear.

Despite losing her mother before she became a teen, Shizue was confident, independent, curious and outspoken—traits most Japanese women did not reveal in the 1930’s. My Grandfather Kanekichi Sato wanted to arrange a marriage for her but my mother would not let that happen. She readily admits with a mischievous smile “I could have any silk kimono I wanted, my father would do anything for me because I was spoiled simply because I lost my mother so young.” To my grandfather’s dismay, the seed of curiosity about the world had been planted.

During the war my mother remembers vividly the B-52 bombers destroying everything, every single Sake factory and every single business venture my grandfather owned. They were wealthy but lost everything. The shrapnel, the horror of screaming children trying to hide were met with destruction and death. These nightmares visit my mother in her dreams. It’s tough to rebuild a life after such devastation. Where does one begin?

“Tabi no koro moni isogare te kite te nua me da ta kari kere”

My grandmother Waka’s prayers must have shielded my mother from death and ultimately a challenging life of social and cultural rejection for marrying an American, the loneliness of traveling to a new land, the death of my sister from leukemia, struggling with few resources to feed young children seemingly abandoned by a father who traveled the world as a Merchant Marine. An intelligent and gifted man who drowned his nightmares in the reflection of a bottle that also tormented his grandfather’s father and the significant legacy of his people. Single-parenting in the fifties and sixties was not for the faint of heart especially if you were a Japanese women raising mixed-race children in a neighborhood that was not always welcoming. My mother persevered. She was and is not only resilient she is a woman of great faith. She prayed over her children and our well-worn clothing singing with steadfast belief.

“Tabi no koro moni isogare te kite te nua me da ta kari kere”

I rarely saw my mother cry but when I did it would break my heart. My mother had suffered enough in her life, losing her mother at such a young age, losing her husband in her forties and raising seven children sometimes with nothing but a hope and a prayer. Perhaps that is why the tradition of passing down knowledge is so critical to the survival of generations to come.
My mother passed on to me what my grandmother and my grandmothers’ great grandmothers passed on to her. “Take your time, do anything and everything you do with great care.”

The truth is–I have forgotten this parable as of late. Perhaps it is because I am alone, called by Creator to serve a community far away from the comfort of my mother and encouragement of my children. My three (now grown) sons are living far away pursuing their respective careers and education fortunate to attend prestigious colleges. I miss stitching their clothing. I don’t know maybe it is because we hardly hand stitch anything anymore. After-all we can iron on seams now—we are in such a rush. Recently, I took a tumble and suffered a concussion and a few cracked vertebrae. I wondered as I looked up from the driveway to the stars was I in a rush? Why did I not see or feel the ice? I was so fortunate to have not sustained a broken neck let alone end my life.
Injury, illness and tragedy will slow us down—we are a society hell-bent on always being in a rush, doing everything in an instant, cooking with colliding atoms and throwing away perfectly good clothing that inly need time and attention. I am grateful that my mother’s prayer’s and my great grandmother’s prayers have covered me throughout my tough—albeit– remarkable life.

“Tabi no koro moni isogare Te kite te nua me da ta kari kere”

I have sung this prayer as I stitched my own son’s worn clothing or as I prepared a new hem. Today, I have all new resolve. I will sing this haiku of sorts once again and when I do– I will slow down. I will sing it when I work, I will sing it when I play, I will pray it when I write important communiqués or make important decisions. I must and I will take care in everything I given—I must.
My mom sacrificed a great deal as her mother did and her grandmothers before her reciting this prayer stitching securely the worn seams of our lives, reclaiming lost buttons much like a lost opportunity or love. They refastened many loose seams when we made hasty decisions that caused heartache in our young lives. Our grandmothers were always mindful to stitch with care, never in a hurry and with such love because doing so manifested the greatest strengths of all—patience, perseverance and protection.

I will be singing this prayer as my mother did for us not just in sewing but in rebuilding the hearts, souls and lives Creator has placed in my great care. I will take my time, be patient with myself and mindful with others as I carry forward an important cultural tradition. I am so grateful today as I have recovered an important lesson of my childhood and the most beautiful recollection of my mother always believing and praying for the best for me.
“Tabi no koro moni isogare te kite te nua me da ta kari kere”

Elizabeth Asahi Rising Sun Sato, daughter of Shizue Sato Warner and granddaughter of Waka Sato.

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One Comment

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