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Family Roots and Routes

At a gathering of people engaged in Zen 2.0, a Mindfulness project in Kamakura, sharing a Shigematsu family photo taken in 1924, in Kuma on the island of Shikoku. The family has come together in anticipation of the passing of my great-grandfather, a former hatamoto, a samurai in direct service to the Tokugawa shogunate. He lost his status, along with all other samurai when the class system was abolished in 1871.

My mother Toshiko is the baby in the middle, held by her mother. Adopted by her older sister Mitsu, on the left in back row, and husband Mitsuo, far right in second row, she was raised in Tokyo as an only child, growing up to be a woman who detested the miliitaristic, emperor-worshiping state, rejecting social norms, marrying an American, having three Japanese and American children, moving to the U.S., making a career, and giving us a life of abundance.

She taught us how to live mindfully, responsibly, to self and other. Mom modeled how to live naturally, as if we were simply part of this world, doing what was needed to survive and thrive. Tireless effort was the way each day was to be lived, with meaning to be found in the struggle itself and moments of beauty to nourish the weary soul.

Today, with the belonging of so many people being challenged, I remember growing up in U.S., when others questioned us, telling us we didn't belong, to go "back to China!" she showed us how to unapologetically assert that this was our country too. She refused to be treated as an alien and so we too demanded respect and inclusion. When we had very little material things, she taught us to be grateful for what we had and to never feel poor and inferior to anyone.

Mother expected excellence, that we always do our best, rejecting our excuses and holding us to the highest standards of behavior. At the same time, she held us in a warm place, understanding our vulnerability and imperfections. Knowing that this safety net was always there, we were empowered to fly to our greatest heights. Our firm roots enabled us to venture forth on our winding routes of adventure into the mysteries of the great unknown.

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