September 8, 2016
The Power of Generations, Part II: Legacies Across Time
By: Tomi Nagai-Rothe

To read part one of this series, click here.

Living in a four-generation family allows me to experience the waxing and waning of life. From my perspective as Obaasan (grandmother), I can observe our family’s generational inhaling and exhaling — a rising and falling that feels like a force of Nature.

My grandson is learning to wave at people. His hands go up and bend at the wrist in a whole hand greeting. He also greets trees, the sky, and the mobiles hanging in his room. His waving has recently become beckoning – as in “let’s go closer,” “please bring that to me,” “I want that!” In this way he draws more of the world toward him day by day.

Waning/Getting Smaller
20160829_GG Bday-closeup-smallMy mother is focused on me, her friend Jan, her grandkids and great grandkids, and her caregivers. She can see very little and has trouble remembering things but she loved going to her favorite Japanese restaurant for her 95th birthday and wore the tiara and held the scepter I brought for her. She keeps asking why she is so lucky and is quick to say, “I love you.” Her world is her room, her favorite restaurants, and the street she lives on. And as her world gets smaller she is focusing on what is most important to her.

I continue to downsize, having moved from a 1500-square-foot house to a 660-square-foot apartment – on my way to a space that is even smaller. The space constraints have forced me to find homes for things I truly don’t need and ask hard questions about what I need vs. want and what my children and grandchildren could possibly use from my household.

I think it makes sense to lighten our load as we get older, and this applies to all our attachments in life. It occurred to me that aging is a process of letting go, and graceful aging is a process of letting go consciously. In letting go we can release what is unnecessary and gain freedom. This culling practice – weighing what is really key – has resulted in focusing me on what I really want in life.

Past and Future Meet in Us
I have been having flashbacks and flash-forwards with my grandchildren. When my 6-year-old granddaughter and I work on a jigsaw puzzle together, I flash back to a rainy summer day in the Wisconsin woods bent over a jigsaw puzzle with my grandmother. I learned to love the slow, satisfying process of finding where each piece fits, and I wonder if a similar feeling arises for my granddaughter as we work on our puzzles.

When I watched my son help my 95-year-old mother out of the car recently, I flashed forward to being helped out of a car by my grandson years in the future. This feeling of actions echoing across time has me paying attention to other experiences that mirror across generations.


Spiritual Legacies
Every Sunday I bring my 6-year-old granddaughter to my Quaker Meeting. She attends First Day School (Sunday School) and part of our worship service, partaking of food and playing with her friends.

Someday she will know what this means to me. My parents belonged to churches but were not attenders. My Grandma Suzuki identified as a Christian at an early age and was active in her faith until her death at 100.

Grandma was born in 1891 when there were few Christians in Japan. Even more rare was that fact that my grandmother was a Christian because of her grandmother who would have been born about 1850. Christianity was illegal then and Christians were being persecuted under a system that had existed for nearly 250 years. I will never know my great-great-grandmother’s religious life story, but I am grateful that this grandmother-to-granddaughter transmission is happening over 100 years later.

Invisible Legacies
My Shintaido teacher, Ito, taught me that martial arts kata (literally, “forms”) carry and express non-verbal knowledge from their creator. We practice the forms in order to understand, in a timeless way, one person’s wisdom. Ito also said that we need to bring ourselves fully to the kata – to use it to express our deepest self. This is a perfect analogy for embodying all of our family legacies while fully expressing ourselves.

As embarrassed as I feel knowing only a little about my family genealogy, I sense that every day I unconsciously embody something of my foremothers and forefathers. Whether it is as simple as rocking babies to sleep or helping elders, or as complex as forming a spiritual life, I am trying to pay attention to the invisible legacy passed down through me.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.