THROUGH THE FIRE: Rollin’ Though the 40s



By Joe Soong


Much has been said about the pitfalls of growing old. We can’t run as fast as we used to, the aches don’t go away as quickly as before, and the newspaper has to be held at arm’s length so our old eyes can focus. However, there’s a positive side to being around for more than four decades.

Progress in technology is one of the most visible signposts of our changing times. Back in elementary school, I remember my family’s TV was a big, heavy wooden box on four legs, with a pair of metal antennae sticking up from the back. It had two big dials on the front, one for channels 2-13 (VHF) and the other for channels 14-60 (VHF), that had to be turned manually to switch channels. Below the big dials were several smaller dials for the horizontal, vertical, tint, and volume controls.

Forty years later, you can view a television program at your convenience by downloading it from any, now ubiquitous, wireless location onto a portable viewing device, such as an iPod, only slightly larger than a stick of Juicy Fruit gum. Amazing.

There have been times were history has unfolded before our eyes, or if we were lucky, right in front of us. Working near City Hall, I had an opportunity to witness the historic 2006 immigration march through downtown Los Angeles. During my lunch break, I walked two short blocks to the center of the demonstration and was awed by a sea of people, reaching back as far as I could see.

Estimate ranged from 200,000 to as high as 500,000 participants. I remember thinking that this was the modern day equivalent of the massive 1960s anti-war and civil rights protests and I felt I was part of something much bigger than myself. Whether you agree or not with the message, it was a memorable display of political expression.

Age has shown me the value of cooperation and selflessness as our society embraces individuality and material wealth. Understandably, we all seek to obtain what we feel we deserve or what we believe we are entitled to. However, it’s also good to stop to reflect on the meaning of our pursuits.

Some view individual expression and material possessions as their ultimate goal, while others see it as the cause of much of what is wrong in our world. I think the answer lies in the middle. More important than the amount of wealth and the currency of individuality is how it is earned, what it means to you, and how it is spent. What we have is only as good as what we are.

In the passing decades, I’ve been privileged to witness remarkable displays of character in the face of hardship and tragedy. There are people close to me who have overcome great personal loss and found the strength to continue. I’ve also seen women and children survive domestic violence and, in the face of overwhelming circumstances, learn to reclaim their lives and move forward with dignity. I marveled at their courage and resilience.

Lastly, it’s the random memories I’ve gathered along the way. The beautiful voices of two little girls singing in harmony from the backseat of my car. In the company of loved ones, watching Washington rain turn into a light snow on a fall afternoon. Little hands holding on to mine because they have learned to trust me.

It’s been a wonderfully rewarding 40-year journey, and to my constant surprise, each year has been better than the last. Hopefully, there’s much more to come.

This is my last Through the Fire column. I’d like to thank all of you, the Rafu readers, for spending time with me every few weeks. I appreciated your emails and comments. I’d also like to thank Gwen Muranaka, the Rafu’s English editor, for her support. And I’d like to thank fellow Through the Fire columnist Trisha Murakawa, who invited me to write my first Through the Fire column more than ten years ago. It turned out to be the first chapter of a story I have enjoyed writing so tremendously.


Joe Soong writes from Alhambra and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.



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