Restlessness blowin’ in the wind

internment-camps-aMy sister posted the following on Facebook yesterday.

David loved teaching. But, when the north wind was blowing, he would predict a tiring day. The explanation he gave was that the north wind carries static which make kids restless. I am restless.

The reference to David is her late husband, David M. Sato, who was an extraordinarily gifted and dedicated elementary school teacher. That’s not true. He was an extraordinary teacher. Period. If you were paying attention, he was “teaching” all the time—pointing out fascinating natural phenomena, showing you how to do something, talking about something he had just read. Five years after his death at an age much too young, two families still mourn his loss, the Satos and the Knights. And thousands of others his life touched through his teaching and activism on behalf of education.

It’s probably too sentimental to say, but David and his entire family would have been heroes before they made any of their contributions to life in the Sacramento area or to my family’s life. They are among the Americans who have experienced the absolute worst treatment any people could ever be afforded in a democracy. The nine Sato siblings’ parents were born in Japan. The family was with their entire community, shipped like cattle off to the desert to be interned in primitive make-shift camps during and after WWII.

Having experienced some of the most dehumanizing and unconscionable treatment a nation that professes to be “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” could possibly mete out, the Satos and their extended family and their friends and fellow detainees returned to their communities. They not only resumed their lives, but they became indispensable to the economic, political, and social fabric of California. It’s tempting to use the insulting cliché, “their best revenge has been living well.” However, their success and the contributions to the greater society have nothing to do with revenge. The Japanese-American community understood the “American dream” before America whisked them away into a nightmare, and they came back to the lives they were already creating for themselves—and helping others create—when the nightmare was over.

I cannot pretend to speak for David or his family on the effect of the internment on their lives, their lives in society or the lives of their spirits. However, from my limited perspective, as close as I feel to the Satos, my observation is that they and their community have lived nobly and graciously in a way that I, for one could or would not have done, given their experience.

Last week I had lunch with Kiyo Sato, David’s eldest sibling (since her online biography doesn’t tell her exact age, I won’t either—I’ll simply say her energy and activity are extraordinary). Like other members of her family, she is gentle but intense, calm but energetic, sweet but brooking no nonsense. She has written her story of her family’s odyssey, available from online book sources under the title either Dandelion through the Cracks or Kiyo’s Story.

Kiyo’s book was awarded the third William Saroyan International Prize for Writing from the Libraries at Stanford University.kiyo

This posting did not begin as a tribute to David and Kiyo and their family. It was going to be about me (of course) and about my current trials and tribulations. Those are real enough. I took an old man fall in the bathtub on February 1 and have had really annoying pain in my right hip since (finally on Thursday my doctor gave me a steroid shot for some short-term blessed relief, he and prescribed physical therapy). I have been given the date for being let out to pasture by SMU (end of spring semester, 2014) which has caused me more emotional shock than I could have imagined. And there are more boring difficulties.

So I was going to kvetch about being old and about to be forgotten and unable to do what I want to because I’m crippled and poor. I was going to mention David and Kiyo in passing with wonderment about their ability to live fully and graciously and successfully—whatever that means—in the face of odds I can’t imagine. And I was going to say something like, well, good for them. Aren’t they an inspiration?

And then I came to my senses. They ARE an inspiration. If Kiyo can win the Saroyan Prize for the best new writer at 85, surely when I’m 70 I can publish an article about Leonard Bernstein rejecting David Diamond’s amorous advances or finish some of those dozens of short stories on my “fiction flash drive” and start sending them out to journals.

The wind must be blowing static. I’m restless. Energetically.

THANK YOU, KIYO!

One Response to Restlessness blowin’ in the wind

  1. john auer says:

    there is such an art of indirection to our attention that leaves our best plans speechless – for now

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