Living in the moment—a mother’s day parable

okaasanmotherI just finished my daily phone call with my mother, Shizue Sato Warner. My Okaasan (mother) always makes me smile when it comes to her philosophy of life. One truly needs to fully understand the heart of a Japanese mother to comprehend how important humility and perseverance are to the role of a mother. Western critics often misrepresent the stoic nature of the Asian mother by suggesting they are over-expectant or over critical and that is simply not true. Yes they can be tough, but exemplifying love is teaching her children the art of survival.

Since the first moment, I can recall my mother often taught us through parables utilizing animals such as tiger or bear mother’s to capture our young minds. “Ano ne” she would say in Japanese prefacing the beginning of a story “the mommy lion she take her babies up big hill and she let them slip downhill to bottom, they cry and cry for their mommy. She say to baby, come on, you can do it, climb up the hill. It is tough for mommy to watch baby crying but she know. Soon the crying babies climb up the hill to their mommy. You see they learn they can do it.”

I think I learned my appreciation for the beautiful sentient animal beings from my mother who also loves animals. She humanized their love of children. Whether it was lions or tigers or bears—there was always a story about how with a mother’s love– children would learn how to become self-sufficient—to survive. After-all, we do not always have our mothers with us for our entire lives. Time with our mothers is very precious.

Today, as I was trying to articulate my appreciation to my Okaasan she shrugs off any complement “yeah yeah ok thank you but today no different I go workout, hit the ball, every day the same.” In her still thick Japanese accent Okaasan is expressing today is like no other, she does what she has to do to stay strong. Okaasan takes care of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren by taking care of herself. She does that by diligently going to the gym and hitting the racquetball one thousand times (and at 90 years old that is no small feat.) My mother Shizue does not do a whole lot of talking. Okaasan teaches her children by doing and for a Japanese mother– passing down the important lessons of discipline, perseverance and humility are far more important than spoiling or indulging her children (although quite honestly she has been known to do that too) My mother understands from experience the harsh realities of life losing her mother as a young child and then raising seven children not unlike a single mom. Our Father was always out at sea as a Merchant Marine Captain with Okaasan fending for her children in a country where the customs and language are very different than what she was accustomed. Just when she became somewhat adjusted– losing her daughter to leukemia and husband to a virulent brain tumor while her children were young would shatter any human being–but not my mother. Shizue is resilient. Nothing deterred Okaasan from raising her children to be honorable, genuine and hardworking. Sure she takes great pride in our academic and career success—but more importantly it mattered to Okaasan what kind of people we would become—character was/is everything to her.

Each and every day my mother does all she can to instill in us (even as adults) that TODAY is the most important day of our lives. Today is what matters most. The Zen Buddhist Monk Shunryu Suzuki describes it as “Ichi-go, Ichi-e.” One moment, one time. The mighty Samurai embraced this philosophy in Bushido and we learn of its value in Chanoyu (tea ceremony.) Beloved–live in this moment as if it is the only moment, one’s very last moment–then there is no regret. Like my mother, I encourage you to live fully embracing the precious nature of the moment. My mother was born during the same era as Suzuki and she has always taught me to live fully and to embrace each and every opportunity. My life is richer for these life lessons.

I am grateful to my Okaasan for the many parables she taught me and continues to teach me. I pass down these invaluable life lessons to my three sons and someday prayerfully my grandchildren. Today is like no other day beloved– but today is the only day. Live for the beauty of the moment, live fully for today.

Elizabeth Asahi Rising Sun Sato

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One Comment

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