After reading those awful tweets by Americans about the women’s soccer gold medal, I felt a strong urge to praise a Japanese woman. It doesn’t negate those mean-spirited sentiments, but it will make me feel a lot better.
One thing that stands out when I read the news these days is the tragic lack of love apparent in so many of the events reported and the comments written. We may be gaining globalization, but we appear to be losing civilization. When all is said and done, without love, we don’t have anything…on a personal, national, global or even universal level.
What matters more than national pride are the individual lives we are leading. Japan may have lost the gold in women’s soccer, but there is one Japanese woman who could teach the world a thing or two about a life well lived.
There is a custom here that the wife of the oldest son must care for the son’s parents in their old age. Many wives of oldest sons are dodging this duty these days as it doesn’t really promote the Japanese ideal of harmony. But often there really is no one else, and “Yumi,” my friend of almost a decade and the wife of an oldest son, isn’t one to shirk a duty.
Now in her 60s, Yumi’s life has not been easy. Her marriage was arranged, not a love match. Her husband was a typical salary man who didn’t come home until 10 p.m. six days a week and spent Sunday out playing. They had two children, an older girl, now married, and a younger son, who was found to have Aspergers or autism. Back 30+ years ago, there wasn’t much understanding of this condition in Japan, but she was determined to help him be as normal as possible.
She spent long hours taking him to speech therapy, teaching him to swim, ride a bicycle, and play catch. He went to regular school and did well academically. In fact, he made it all the way through college. But he gradually developed other problems, including depression which evidently has its roots in severe bullying he suffered while in school. It became evident that he would never be able to work and live independently, though he goes to the hospital day care as much as possible. Yumi encourages him all she can and never gives up hope.
Her husband, while in his 50s, fell into depression, quit work and took to his bed. He has ups and downs but isn’t able to do very much. Yumi, who had long worked part-time for the government, continues to work to this day to support the family. In addition, she is an avid volunteer who has spent long hours helping many needy people. She’s also helped me personally with many things, including the difficult and laborious process of adopting my son. She is one of his favorite people.
Yumi’s mother-in-law is of the old school who sees daughters-in- law as semi-servants. She has always treated Yumi like an outsider and never appreciated all the visits she made across town to check on her through the years. All the family’s ills were blamed on Yumi, and as is often the case in Japan, her husband put his mother far above his wife in all matters.
A few years ago, when Yumi had just spent another hard day trying to help her mother-in-law, only to be criticized and rebuffed, she made a decision. She knew she could refuse to help her or just do the minimum even though the old woman was really in need. Certainly Yumi had plenty to do and good excuses.
But she chose instead to try to feel and show genuine love to her. She started to talk to her more gently and to respond with kindness to her mother-in-law’s unkindness. She even told her mother-in-law she loved her, something just not done here. Gradually, her mother-in-law changed in her manner toward Yumi. Though certainly not loving, the old woman started softening.
Recently Yumi and her family moved in with her mother-in-law who is failing and in need of almost constant attention. Yumi’s son and husband remain in bad condition. There is a lot of complaining and not a word of thanks, but yet she continues on, not in bitterness, but in love and hope. She takes care of them all and still works and volunteers. She’s the person everyone wants to talk to when they have a problem. She’s coming here tomorrow which always makes me feel a sense of relief and security.
She is the face of Japan that I would like you to see. The number of individuals like Yumi a nation has is far more important than its number of gold medals. In the end, love wins.