THROUGH THE FIRE: Another Milestone

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YAMATO, SHARON 09By SHARON YAMATO

In a month I turn 65. As has been the practice that began 15 years ago, my milestone birthdays have always provided a moment of reflection and (I’m sorry to say) fodder for a column. I was going to let this one slip by, but I’ve been feeling the urge to bother you once again with my customary homage to aging. After all, it is a Big One, being retirement age and all, not to mention (drum roll) Medicare.

You may not believe it, but I’m not the kind of person who likes others to know when a birthday rolls around. A party is on my “No way, Jose” list, and I actually like to go out of town just so no one can make a fuss about it. Though I do hint loudly to my other half that going out to dinner is a must, I don’t really want anyone else to notice, and I adamantly refuse to put the date on my Facebook page.

I’m really not sure why or how this birthday evasion started, but I remember a surprise party luncheon my sister gave me on my 30th birthday that left a notable scar. She got me to her house by telling me that there was a medical emergency involving her toddler son, and I nearly killed myself bolting out the door and racing down the freeway to get there. Arriving in dirty sweats and unwashed hair, I was greeted with a room full of smiling, made-up, bright-eyed women who must have thought I just fell off a garbage truck. I wanted to hide in the chicken casserole the entire afternoon.

Then there was the surprise 60th birthday party put on by my young, athletic marathon running buddies. These girls with their toned 30ish bodies and smooth skin spent the whole time in disbelief over how ancient I was. It blew the whole cover I’d carefully honed over the years that I was in fact 20 years younger, but then again maybe I was the only one I’d managed to convince.

When you turn 65, there’s no way to hide from the truth. Perhaps it’s the telltale wrinkles under the eyes or maybe it’s the myriad of Medicare supplemental plans that start clogging your mailbox. The difficult job of understanding all the information suddenly thrust upon you is second only to disentangling the specifics of the Affordable Care Act. On the bright side, you’re no longer pestered by life insurance salesmen.

The hardest thing to come to terms with is retirement. In my case, since I’m self-employed, I haven’t had to worry about throwing in my 9-to-5 office desk chair to curl up permanently on the couch at home. Still, I suddenly feel the need to make sure that retirement doesn’t mean my productivity is over. Just because a few of my brain cells have deteriorated doesn’t mean I can’t accomplish things left on my to-do list — like writing the Great American Novel or producing a blockbuster film.

In truth, I think I would like to devote some of my retirement years to one thing: sharing the Japanese American incarceration story with the huge population, both young and old, that knows little or nothing about it.

I figured this out just last week when I made a presentation before 400 affluent women at the University of Michigan. As one of the speakers fortunate enough to be with a national agency, I’ve shared the camp story with thousands of people who are often shocked to hear about what happened just 75 years ago. In telling stories about extraordinary people like Gordon Hirabayashi, Ralph Lazo, and Michi Nishiura Weglyn to those who have never heard of them, I often hear people ask how they could help spread the word about this (our) important history. There’s nothing more gratifying than to hear this public response.

With Issei and more and more Nisei no longer around to give their first-hand accounts, it’s up to the rest of us to continue to share their stories. If nothing else, it keeps the memory of our parents and grandparents alive and vital.

In the ever-present fight for equal justice that continues to be jeopardized with other groups, whether they be Muslims, blacks, women or LGBTQs, we need to share what we learned through the struggles of our ancestors who lost their freedom while many stood by and watched.

On this occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, it’s more important than ever to acknowledge that there is still much work to be done to ensure those basic tenets of equal rights and liberty guaranteed in our Constitution. As one of our forefathers said, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” and there’s no age limit to that critical job.

Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey, and she can be reached at [email protected].

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