… I have learned to LISTEN! Let me share with you an encounter I recently had.
On a flight from Tokyo I had the privilege of conversing with a 78 year old Japanese gentleman. This sprite gentleman divulged so much to my colleague and I about Japanese history and his experiences over the years. He was in Japan during the Hiroshima bombing and explained how the Tokyo we see now is not what used to be. Tokyo used to have a lot of mountains and the Hiroshima bomb wiped out those mountains and flattened Tokyo. Over 130,000 people died from the bombing and many others suffered and most likely died because of the effects of radiation. He emphasized that when he was younger, under the emperor that ruled at the time, he was raised and molded to be ready to die for his country. He was willing to and so many of the young men his age. He said that the emperor had established in the people that though the world was being colonized by the UK and Europe, this did not have to be the fate of Japan. He ensured the people that they would build Japan, the knowledge of the people and protect the land so that they would be independent of Western rule and that’s exactly what happened. Japan was never colonized by the West except for the occupation that took place by the Americans after the Hiroshima bomb.
The Japanese gentleman also explained how he fears for the future of Japan because this generation is so disconnected and lacks depth. They always have their heads down looking at their phones. He additionally shared with us some of his upbringing. Japanese culture holds great reverence for nature and the order of things. Everything has to be done in order, with decorum and excellence. The gentleman explained that by this understanding is how the Japanese do everything and how he was taught to live his life. He mentioned about Kyoto (which I visited on my first trip to Japan) and Nara and said how he believes that they are the center of the spiritual essence of Japanese culture. He believed that if America hit Kyoto or Nara with the atomic bomb that Japan would have lost a great part of their culture.
I am truly intrigued by Japanese culture and how their lives are conducted in respect to their beliefs and you see it everywhere you go. One part that is equally fascinating to me is the existence of the Samurai and their beliefs. I asked the gentleman about the Samurai. He explained that when he was younger all of the children were raised with knowledge of the Samurai and practiced basic Samurai beliefs and exercises. The Samurai are very highly regarded by the people because of their discipline and skill. He even mentioned that many Americans, specifically persons within secret services or and high profile security, come to Japan to be pupils of the Samurai. He mentioned that, once, Robert Kennedy visited Japan with his body guard who was of great stature. Robert and his body guard met with Samurai and during their meeting the Samurai exhibited their skill by taking down Robert’s body guard using pressure points in his hand and twisting it in a way that caused him to fall to his knees. It left Robert amazed.
I can go on and on about what this elder gentleman shared with my colleague and I but it would make this blog post exceeding long. We were so grateful for all the history and the thoughts that he shared with us and expressed this to him. As I thought back on what he shared with wonder, a quote came to mind that I saw on Facebook some weeks back:
When I saw this quote it had me think a lot on how we treat our elders nowadays. As they get older many of us neglect them, act as if they are out dated and not “cool”, all while forfeiting the wealth of knowledge that lies within their years of experience and the history which their memories hold. How many times have our parents, grandparents and other elders shared golden nuggets of knowledge with us in our naive youth that we neglected and as we get older we finally realize that they were right all along! I know I am not the only one that ends up saying or thinking, “My – INSERT ELDER HERE – used to say that all the time!” or “Why didn’t I listen to my – INSERT ELDER HERE – ?!!” or “Wow! – INSERT ELDER HERE- was right!”
We wonder why the present generation is in the state it is in?! They have turned from wisdom and understanding and a greater part of wisdom and understanding is found in the elders that have already lived this life that we have just begun living. We are making foolish and destructive decisions over and over again instead of seeking out wholesome elders to sit under and learn from since they have already been there and done that. We do not make time to spend with them because we are too “busy”, not realizing that it is a great benefit for us, not just for them!
I had the opportunity within the last 2 years of my grandfather’s life to visit him more often than I could within my earlier years. My present desire to know and understand my history and what has brought me to be the woman I am today, drove me to ask him questions and tell me more about his life and experiences. Knowing that sooner than later he would be gone, I would write down much of what he said and even videotaped him sharing a specific story which he often told me when I came to visit. There are many stories that he shared with me that have stuck in my mind but there is one in particular that was an experience that remained in his soul and when he shared it with me, remained in my soul, too. Reader, I would like to share it with you…
My grandfather was part of the “Windrush” generation that moved from the Caribbean to the UK between the 50’s and 70’s. You can read more about the Windrush generation and their migration here.
His generation migrated in search for work while Europe used them as cheap labor. He encountered culture shock and discrimination as the majority of the British then were encountering these migrants for the first time and were not very open minded to those different than them or to the change that was taking place.
At one point, my grandfather found employment with a construction company. Here he had a supervisor named “Bob” (I can’t remember his name, so let’s call him Bob) who was a white South African. During my grandfather’s time of employment with this company, there was a period where financing had halted a bit for building and Bob had to lay off some workers. As he started laying off workers one by one, my grandfather and his colleagues realized a similarity with all the workers Bob was laying off: they were all white! So, when curiosity got the best of him, my grandfather got up enough gumption to approach Bob on the matter. He asked Bob, “Hey Bob! I know that you have had to lay off a lot of the workers lately but I have also noticed something that I am curious about. Why are you laying off all the white workers? It doesn’t seem fair.” Bob replied “Willy, it is already difficult having to lay off men who will need to find work to take care of their families but I guarantee you that if I lay off a white worker, it will take a couple of days for him to find work. However, if I lay off the black workers it will take weeks maybe even months before they will be able to find work again.” His response floored my grandfather! Here was a white guy, in a time of great discrimination and prejudice of which my grandfather was a victim of, who had a considerate heart towards the immigrants especially those of African descent. My grandfather said he gained great respect for Bob that day and later found out from Bob that during his time in South Africa he witnessed the abuse and maltreatment of the native South Africans by the Europeans there and when he could not take it anymore, he left the country and moved to the UK.
This story is embedded in my soul because it taught me the reality of fate, the importance of our experiences on this journey of life and how the impact of many of our experiences prepare us for the next step in our lives. Had not Bob witnessed and been moved by compassion for those South Africans and connected with their pain and suffering, he would not have been able to empathize with the Afro-Caribbean workers, which included my grandfather, that were under his supervision during that time of cutbacks.
I better understand the emphasis in the scriptures about respect and reverence for our elders. They have lived this hard life, have learned the hard lessons that this life has taught and have gone through every step that has made them who they are today. They were positioned, by our Creator, as our predecessors and have been entrusted with teaching and guiding us on this life journey. Though they are not perfect, their God given position of authority as overseers in our lives makes them deserving of our respect and acknowledgement.
I am grateful for the elders in my life and I only wish I had become aware of the importance of their experiences, words and existence at a younger age. My great grandmother lived to see 92 years on this Earth! Almost an entire century! When she departed, she took 92 years of life experience and history with her. I wish I knew then what I knew now because, though I learned so much from my great grandmother, there is still so much I wish I could have asked her and learned from her. Now, I make it my point of duty to spend time with my elders, ask questions, inquire about their lives, listen to their stories and seek their advice. When I do I always leave them feeling empowered and with a sense of peace, not to mention that they enjoy sharing my company. I choose to instill in my children a deeper reverence for their elders as part of their upbringing and how they must make it a priority to seek out their elders for guidance and to spend quality time with them. Reader, I encourage you to do same because once they are gone the only thing that remains is the love and wisdom they invested in us. Whatever you did not receive from them is gone forever.
**I dedicate this blog post to my Grandfather. I miss him dearly but he will forever live in my memory, through his words, stories and through the love and support he showed me through the years that God blessed me to share with him. RIP Wilmoth Hyacinth**