It was my mother-in-law, Marjorie Yaeko, who taught me that in
Japanese, the word for patience is
suck it up,
put up with it without complaining.
Shikata ga nai
It can’t be helped.
It was my mother-in-law, Marjorie Yaeko, who taught me that in Japanese, the word for patience is “gaman” which means “suck it up,” or “put up with it without complaining.” “Shikata ga nai” means “It can’t be helped.”
Gaman and shikata ga nai can be either negatively or positively applied. Gaman can let injustice rule the day by giving up and allowing things to happen. On the other hand, gaman and shikata ga nai have enabled many people to endure hardships and find positive and creative ways of accomplishing admirable goals and ends.
One time when I was in a hurry, I stopped by Marjorie’s house to pick up something she said she had for me. Expecting to be only a couple of minutes, I left my own mother waiting in the car and ran in to grab the gift and go. But once I was inside the house, my mother-in-law had other plans. She began by showing me all the avocados and lemons she had picked for me from her trees.
I was very appreciative but explained that I was in a hurry.
“I have a candle I don’t want,” Marjorie suddenly seemed to remember, so she told me to sit down to wait while she went to get it.
“You’ll need something to carry it in,” she said as she brought out an old red and yellow Folger’s coffee can from the hall closet.
“But first, we need something protective to wrap it in. I’ll go get the bubble wrap,” she said.
“She disappeared into the pantry where she had KFC styrofoam containers, pie tins, pickle jars, baggies and brown paper sacks to choose from along with a multitude of rewashed squares of tin foil. Ever since losing everything she owned and experiencing being interned in Arizona during World War II, she had been unable to get rid of a single thing that might still have a use. It drove my father-in-law (who was not interned) completely nuts.
To this day, his favorite phrase to shout is, “Throw it out!”
While Marjorie continued to search for just the right wrap, I was thinking about my mother sitting out in the car in the dark, waiting for me. I became more and more anxious to get going.
Finally, my mother-in-law re-emerged from the pantry and meticulously wrapped the candle from top to bottom in several inches of bubble wrap. Then she carefully placed it in the coffee can.
Just as I was thinking, “Ah, I can get going now,” Marjorie discovered a sharp edge on the inside of the coffee can. “This could be dangerous,” she warned.
I couldn’t believe it. I tried to keep from fidgeting while she rummaged through a desk drawer searching for the right tool and then began to work at smoothing the side of the can. Finally, it seemed as if the candle must be ready to go.
“You need a bag to carry it in,” Marjorie said and began researching her pantry to find just the right bag. Now the candle was wrapped well enough to survive a journey over the Rocky Mountains by covered wagon, rather than just a 20 minute drive by Camry.
Just as I stood up to go, she said, “We need to cut some camellias for you.”
“Camellias?” I asked in confusion, wondering what flowers had to do with anything.
“Yes, they’re beautiful right now,” she insisted.
We went outside. I’d probably have appreciated their beauty more if the yard wasn’t pitch black.
“We need flashlights!” Marjorie decided.
We ended up searching by flashlight for just the right red camellia blooms to cut. “This one!” she exclaimed, as she ran her hands along the branches of the six-foot tall bushes. “And this one!”
As I finally got everything loaded into the car and slid into the seat next to my mom, I said, “You could have come inside, you know.”
“I know,” she said.
“I’m sorry we took so long,” I apologized. “But Marjorie just kept thinking of one more thing. It’s almost like she’s trying to keep me there. She was driving me crazy.”
That night my mom quietly listened to me complain about my mother-in-law but didn’t say anything for a few moments. Then she asked, “Do you know how many people would give anything to have a mother-in-law like yours?”
As usual, my mom put everything into perspective. My mother-in-law, whose Japanese name of Yaeko meant “child of the double bouquet,” is no longer living.
On this anniversary of the day of her loss, I treasure the great memory of the many gifts she gave to me.
And, I still have that old coffee can.