Kelly’s Preface: How easy it is for us to see students as study creatures, without considering what might be going on in their personal lives. It is an error that should be obvious to anyone who looks back at their own college days, with the broken hearts, dangerous experimenting, new adventures, and plain old growing up, but still, we forget.
So, I have asked Risa, a student I met at Heian Jogakuin Women’s University, if I could share a story that she recently sent me in an e-mail. It shows a dramatic event in her life. It is a story about when her father, an Olympic-level runner, suddenly died from drinking too much water, and her being notified. In fact, I attended the funeral. It was a tragic event, but I was glad to see she wrote the story up in English (Is my happiness perverse?), and shared it. Writing out our stories is a special way to keep them, learn from them, and honor them.
But there is something else. This did not occur recently. It happened 20 years ago. Now, Risa is a mother of three living in Kyoto and her sending me the story shows another misconception we might have about our learners, that even though they fade out of our memories at graduation, it might not be the same for them. What happens at age 19 is a big jump in the usually gradual process of growing up, a difficult journey on which we are lucky enough to be fellow travelers. So, what we see as regular year in and year out with new sets of similar students is not regular at all for them. It might be the most crucial year of their lives and, because of that, what we do becomes special.
Thank you, Risa, for teaching us these things.
Dear Father, Do I miss you？
In the class in Australia, where I was studying abroad. There were five minutes left before the chime for lunch rang.
Only the sound of running a pen resounded in the quiet classroom.
I was staring blankly at the clock on the wall, wondering what to eat for lunch today.
Knock suddenly echoes.
All the students stopped their pens and looked at the door.
As teachers were whispering to each other, we could easily hear that “somebody in this class must go back to their country.”
But I didn’t guess it was me.
I was invited to the empty principal’s office.
Walking to the phone which receiver was off the hook.
“Come home quickly, your Dad is waiting for you.”
I heard mom say that that on the other side of the phone from Japan.
This is how I found out that you, father, had passed away.
After replacing the receiver,
I was not sad. Because I couldn’t stop thinking of people around you. I worried about them. I was sorry for them that they must be so very sad.
That’s why I could act very brave and come home properly.
But, I knew everyone was worried about how I could get on the plane and travel all the way home all by myself. But I did.
Then, in front of the door, I took a deep breath and grabbed the doorknob. I said it out loud.
A lot of people were already gathered at the house.
I don’t know why, but I didn’t find where to go in the house, and whose face to look at. I tried to go upstairs.
Because that’s where you always were.
Mom stopped me on the way up the stairs and I turned around, I saw you lying down in the corner of the living room.
I’m sorry Dad, that I didn’t put my hands together in prayer for very long. I am sorry that I only could say to you “I’m home.”
We had your funeral next day.
I’ve never had such a nice time before.
Nobody there hates each other. They were just smiling and laughing and telling your stories that I have never heard.
I found out that every person there had stories of you and them just like I do with you.
And I was able to see people I thought I would never see again because they live far away.
Twenty years have passed since then. I didn’t miss you at all.
I know, you died at 53 years old, and this is much younger than most people, but this is the way I believe. You have done enough of what other people do in a longer lifetime.
You and I spend time together only for 21 years, but you did a lot to me just as what other Dads do in longer lifetimes. I am content enough, very satisfied with what you have done for me.
The only thing I wanted was to show you my children, your grandchildren. I wanted you to hold their hands and go for a walk. I wanted to drink with you. I just want to see you coming down the stairs again.
Oh, it’s not only thing, I have plenty things that I want to do with you. Am I Sad? Do I miss you?
No, every time I think of you. I feel like I am creating more memories with you.
So I will continue talking about you with a smile saying “I have never missed you at all.”
I hope this letter reaches my Dear Dad.
One more thing.
When I asked Risa if we could include her story, she wrote something else back that was just as touching.
Dear Prof. Kelly
Hey, I have just finished my full make up but you messed it up!!
I couldn’t read your email without tears. Thank you and thanks to all your friends for taking their time to read my story.
I’m very glad for myself that people will read my story. and I’m so glad that this will make my Mom and Dad’s friends happy.
My father’s friends, runners on his team, were behind us at the funeral. I heard them say this: behind me at the funeral. “We all need to keep the three sisters happy until they grow up.”
That made me think that I am loved.
And that was a big reason that I could make my life better and keep being happy was because they would be sad if I was sad.
What a blessing when we have students like Risa!
Risa Iwanaga was a student at Heian Jogakuin University, in Shiga, Japan. She worked as an engineer’s assistant at an electrical goods manufacturer and is now a mother of three in Kyoto.