Mender (noun) – a person who repairs something (Oxford Dictionary)
In 1971, Most Beautiful One (MBO) and I were living in our sixth humble abode since running away together two years before at ages 18 and 19. This latest one was a small dilapidated house in Van Nuys, California. MBO was working as a secretary and I was struggling through college. Most months we could barely pay our rent. I remember how thrilled we were to be able to afford two burritos at Taco Bell instead of sharing just one. So, I feel tremendous empathy for the many people who are suffering economically now as a result of COVID-19.
When I had the opportunity to visit Japan as part of our Buddhist practice, we scraped together the money for a plane ticket plus $25 spending money. Needless to say, our financial fortune was not yet overflowing!
At one point during this inspiring trip, I took the bullet train from Tokyo to Nara Prefecture where I attended an afternoon discussion meeting (see my photo above right) and spent the night at the home of an architect. At the time, he seemed really old to me – maybe 35 or 40. Unfortunately, I don’t recall my host’s name so I am going to call him Hiroshi because it means generous in Kanji.
Sleeping away from home was always a little scary but I survived. I remember being encouraged by Hiroshi to take a traditional relaxing Japanese bath. The water was too scalding hot for me to get in the tub. I barely splashed myself and toweled off instead. I like to think that Hiroshi was none the wiser but he was probably just being considerate.
Around 7 p.m., Hiroshi explained that the reason we were still not ready to eat dinner was that his wife and mother-in-law had yet to return from a sad event in Osaka. He was extremely apologetic. After chanting together, he sat directly in front of me and, through a local translator, told me the story of the lady whose funeral his wife was attending.
“The course of our lives is determined by how we react – what we decide and what we do – at the darkest of times. The nature of that response determines a person’s true worth and greatness.” – Daisaku Ikeda
During the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, this woman lost her husband and four young children. While many people might have succumbed to despair, she proceeded to adopt four war orphans, two boys and two girls. For the next 25 years, she sewed dresses and suits as well as mended clothes to earn enough money to feed and send her children to school. Hiroshi explained that all four had successful careers and two were married with their own young children.
He wanted me to know that this lady was the type of person who never turned away someone in need. She once even answered a middle-of-the-night knock on her door to repair a tear in his coat for a business trip he was leaving on the next morning.
A few hours later, Hiroshi’s wife and her mother returned exhausted from their journey. It turned out that several hundred people who knew this amazing lady had come out to honor her at the memorial service. Only after everyone had offered a traditional stick of incense and shared stories were they able to take the train home.
At this point, Hiroshi excused himself and went to another room and returned with something small in his grasp. He reverently placed a gold-plated tie clasp with an inset diamond in my hand. I remember his exact words. “This is my most valuable possession that was given to me by my father. I see in your eyes that you are still discovering who you want to be in this life. Please remember this lady who mended so many lives whenever you lose your way. Ask yourself, could anyone have lived a more noble and admirable life than her? Let this be your guide whenever you are feeling lost.”
I almost didn’t need the translator so penetrating were his words. Tears flowed down my face. I often wore that tie clasp over my many years in the business world as a reminder to try my best to oppose injustice and be compassionate and be helpful to those around me. A message of particular relevance today.
This tiny but priceless object now rests on a shelf in my closet (see middle photo). During this corona-crisis that we are all facing together, I find myself gazing at it even more than usual as I seek inspiration from that special Japanese lady — one of my greatest heroes.
Thanks for reading and stay safe out there!
Next week: Henrik Ibsen & the Coronavirus
Other titles by Mike during Covid-19:
Julie Andrews and the Coronavirus
Most Lucky One & the Coronavirus
Lily Tomlin & the Coronavirus
Herbie Hancock & the Coronavirus
Leo Tolstoy & the Coronavirus
Most Beautiful One & the Coronavirus
Grandma Moses & the Coronavirus
Leonardo da Vinci & the Coronavirus
Lean on Bill Withers and Defeat the Coronavirus
Gandhi, King, Ikeda & the Coronavirus
Tagore and the Coronavirus
Annie Leibovitz and the Coronavirus
Ansel Adams and the Coronavirus
Louise Penny and the Coronavirus
Harry Manx and the Coronavirus
Keb’ Mo’ and the Coronavirus
Davy Jones and the Coronavirus
Prince Hamlet and the Coronavirus
Helen Keller and the Coronavirus
Pema Chodron and the Coronavirus
ABOUT MIKE LISAGOR – Mike Lisagor plays harmonica and sings in Good Karma Blues. He has written hundreds of magazine articles and blogs on a variety of business and Buddhist related topics. He is the author of “Romancing the Buddha,” which he adapted into a successful one-man show that he performed at Bainbridge Performing Arts and in Los Angeles and Washington D.C. His nature photographs have appeared in the Boston Globe, Bainbridge Island Magazine, Living Buddhism as well as in several local galleries. His latest graphic art project, “Reimagined Nature”, is in the lobby of New Motion Physical Therapy.