Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mom's Birthday and Easter Sunday Thoughts

For the Christian world, today is Easter. For the bunny loving world it's a day to hunt decorated eggs laid or hidden by the Easter Bunny -- go figure. For our family, today is our mother's 89th birthday! No one in our family, born in the US or immigrated, has reached this milestone. I'm proud of mom!

Today we bought two cakes, one for the party at Southtowne at 2 pm during social hour and one small one for her special swing shift friends to celebrate when she gets up and wanders around. Eric, Jose, Cindy and others keep her company during those hours. Sometimes Eric tells her stories or sings in Japanese. Sometimes, Jose and Cindy bring her in to their little nurse's station so she can relax instead of get into fights with others. Sometimes, they try to get her back to sleep. It may work; it may not. But the fact is they give love and they're there while her family sleeps through the night.

Easter in my childhood was another family time with food, company and goodies. We painted eggs with mom. She had this special recipe using hot water, dye, vinegar AND oil so the dye was marbled. We'd wipe the egg between each dip and dip in another color. The two of us, my sister and I, were the event of the day, looking for the eggs all the adults hid -- grandma, grandpa, my two uncles, one aunt and my mother.

But the story of the resurrection never took root in me despite the fact I went to the Methodist Church. I remember getting into hot water with my religion professor at the College of Idaho. She lived across the street. I could hear her in the living room yelling at my mother about her daughter, me, who had the devil in her. Seriously. I got a peek at her from the hallway and she looked just like I imagined the Wizard of Oz Witch whom Dorothy crushed under her flying house. Apparently, it bothered her that I answered her exam question "Should it be by faith or by deeds which identify Christians." I wrote, as any Japanese would, that we become who we are as much through our actions as through what we believe. To follow Jesus' example seemed the right thing to do just as we followed our ancestors, our teachers, our parents, our grandparents. But the professor literally almost broke a blood vessel reading my answer to her essay question. For Christians it was so important that one believed against all logic that Jesus was crucified, dead, buried and rose again, and this crucifixion was an ultimate sacrifice done for the sake of all sinners, his blood spilled for all sins, and that to be a good Christian, all you had to do was to believe that he died for you and your sins, and believe that God the Creator raised him from the dead to be with him. It's not that I didn't believe that at the time. I just didn't pay as much attention to the human sacrifice part as I did his courageous and compassionate example. I was raised to believe that one showed respect by following the footsteps of those who went before, those who were my teachers, my elders. The idea of gaining redemption from someone's death was too foreign, and definitely did not fit as a basis for a belief system, very uncomfortable. It works for a lot of people but I am not wired that way. I think that's why colonialism doesn't work for me either -- to gain from someone's bloody sacrifice.

The professor left with a shriek and mom had a talk with me. She told me she wasn't saying anything I did was wrong. Instead, she put things in perspective for me -- peace in the neighborhood, hurting the professor's feelings to the point of distraction, keeping the goal of graduation in the forefront, choosing compassion -- and I followed her advice for the sake of the neighborhood, for my family, for my mom, and re-did the test -- "a good Christian believes that it is by faith and faith alone that one receives salvation." I don't remember one single supporting idea because it just did not come from my heart. But it was enough to pass the test with a "C" and brought peace to the neighborhood.

I'm remembering that incident today. As a Winnemem, I'm remembering another incident. I'm sitting with our spiritual leader and chief, Florence Jones, or Granny, as she rested in bed. She rolled over and pointed above her head at Jesus on the cross -- a gift from a relative. "That bled once," she said. "I touched it to see what that was, and it was blood." She had taken the cross to a minister and asked him what it meant. The minister advised her just to keep it to herself. She asked me if I knew about such things. I did tell her about "stigmata" and the miracle of healing and what happened when people found out. Maybe she was glad the world of pilgrims did not converge upon her little ranch.

Granny said, "Jesus is like me." I understood. Jesus was a spiritual doctor. He could doctor people. He could pray for them. He accepted everyone and loved everyone who came to him. He could raise people from the dead.

Granny told me, "Once I tried to walk on water and almost drowned." So there are some things, perhaps, he might have done that she didn't do. However, she could walk barefoot through fire. Then I thought of that professor across the street. What would she say if she heard somebody say, "Jesus is like me." For her a good Christian believed Jesus was one of a kind, the ONLY son of god, the sacrifice for the world's sins, and one whose life on earth and deeds of courage, compassion and healing were not to be followed or duplicated or talked about without risk of committing sacrilege.

I am happy on the Winnemem way of life although I thank Methodism for my early training and even give a nod to my religion professor and her passion to have her way become mine. But if I had, I would not have recognized the miracles as I witnessed them during my lifetime along the Winnemem way. Actually, I don't call them miracles because they are not "one of a kind." There are many blessings, healings, answers to prayers by the Great Olelbus whatever name the Great Creator Spirit is called by the people who turn toward and follow faith, as numerous as there are mountains, the fish, the trees, the rivers, the medicine plants, as many as there are people. There are a multitude of blessings not just one miracle.

Happy happy birthday, Mom! It's been fun following you and picking up my own human work along Life's pathway. Today, we celebrate her 89 years of hard work -- following ancestors, abiding by family, surviving racism, speaking up when she saw it, telling her children the truth always, going to college at 45, becoming an artist, becoming a teacher, teaching many children and believing in them, seeing more of the world (China, Japan, Thailand, Alaska), and enjoying what she saw, supporting her children in choosing their own way and now, embracing all humans and trees as her family. You're my hero, Mom!

Going out is our favorite. I gather mom up and say, “Let’s go have fun!”

Every time, her eyes get big with surprise and she holds out her arms, “Whoopeee!”

We get ready for our day and as we go out the door she says her “goodbyes” to the staff and friends. “Have a good time, Mary!” they say.

“Okey dokey doooooo!” she crows.

I open the gate. She lifts her face to the sky, flings out her arms and gives another “Whoopeeeeee!”

I open the door and my petite little Mama hops in like a gymnast getting up on the balance beam, her hands on the seat, pushing herself up and balancing for an instant before plopping down. I marvel to myself. I cannot even imagine being able to do that now, and she’s 24 years older. I buckle her in, shut her door and climb into the driver’s seat.

“Oh, hello!” she greets me with surprise. “ I didn’t know you were driving..” And we’re off for our adventure as mom says again, “I can’t believe my own daughter is driving!

This is how I live my days, each day opening with such surprise and joy. I told my sister, I don’t know when it happened but somewhere along the way, Mom shifted from responsibility to my hobby! Hobby? Hanging with my momma!”

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"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.