Gaman. It’s the Japanese word “to endure, to persevere, to overcome,” with dignity and grace. Dignity and grace are important parts of the definition. When my grandparents and parents were in the wartime relocation camps, gaman was their watchword. My family didn’t come across the plains, but it’s a good thing I’ve had their pioneer example of gaman. I needed it Thursday night and most of Friday, when intense muscular pain, swelling, and nauseousness became too much like the material about which General Authorities write inspirational books. About 3 am Thursday night I was thinking, “Okay, really, I think I’ve done the pain and suffering lessons. Really. Can’t I move on to some other life lesson now?” Gaman. Enduring is hard enough; I’m working on the dignity and grace part, too.
I’ve been often asked, “Does Akemi know how you’re doing? How is Akemi doing?” She often calls me while she on the shuttle bus between Tufts and NEC. We had a nice long talk early this morning my time while my body systems were rebooting and while she was folding her laundry. No matter how I am feeling, a phone call from Akemi cheers me up instantly. She emails me links to funny YouTube videos. My greatest joy is that she is happy and thriving.
In August she was an orientation leader, helping the new double-degree students navigate the complicated start-of-school intersection of Tufts and NEC required activities (e.g., having to take your theory placement test or having your assigned orchestra audition time at the conservatory at the exact same time as your math placement test at Tufts). And she helped Tufts freshmen move into their dorms, in pre-hurricane heat and humidity.
Now that classes are underway, she is cheerily optimistic about liking her engineering classes and is excited to be using cool engineering paper. She is again concertmaster of the Tufts Symphony Orchestra, her Tufts schedule precluding her from being in the NEC orchestra again this year. She and the conductor are delighted that a bumper crop of new enthusiastic freshmen violinists and violists have arrived. Her violin teacher was very pleased with her summer work when they were together at the music program at Mt. Holyoke in August, and so she has some momentum on this year’s program going for her: the Prokovief second violin concerto, the Bach g minor partita, a Grieg sonata. There’s more repertoire I haven’t heard of, I’m sure. And somehow in all of that there’s also her NEC music theory, solfege, and piano classes.
And she loves the Cambridge University Ward. This famous congregation has been known for decades and decades as one of the best wards, if not the best ward, in our entire church. All the single undergraduates in the greater Boston area attend this ward, so there are students there from Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Wellesley, Berklee School of Music, Simmons College, Northeastern, of course Tufts and NEC, even Brandeis (a Jewish convert to the church). One young man at the Rhode Island School of Design even comes down from Providence each Sunday. You can imagine how vibrant, interesting, and smart these young people are. She has made great friends in the ward and is happy to be back with them, while making new friends among the new arrivals.
Her roommate this year is the other violinist her class in the double-degree program. The girls became good friends last year and have a lot in common (as in, when Akemi took physics this summer, Ji-Wen took chemistry). I hear they have a nice corner room on the second floor of an old house, in a location convenient to the library and the beautiful Tufts performing arts center, where she keeps her violin and practices, and also picks up the shuttle.
While I wouldn’t have wished the audition/application process on my worst enemy (talk about needing to gaman), a great freshman year and a promising start to her sophomore year have made that high-anxiety trial, and all the sacrifices of those Colburn/High Point/Poly years, worthwhile. I’ve assured her that I, and others, will give her the straight scoop on how I am doing so she can concentrate on her life in Boston. While we were in Maine, after we knew about the diagnosis but before the chemo started, she said, “Mom, I’ve learned the stiff-upper-lip from the best of them, and that’s you.” So I have to be glad, for all that Akemi and I have been through, that stick-to-it-tive-ness, whether through bad or for good, with an eye on the big picture, a commitment to the joy of living, and a responsibility to the grace of gaman, are what we can give to each other.