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My Aunt Chizuko

Everyone dies but not everyone lives. ~ A. Sachs
Taken May 2002

I just learned this week that my aunt Chizuko has passed.  As is the case with most of my Japanese relatives, I had infrequent contact with her (she lived in Japan) and knew very little about her.  I’m not quite sure how old she was when she passed (I estimate mid to late 80s) and I don’t recall what her married name was.  What I did know about her, though, is that she was one of the coolest people I have ever met.  The first time I met Chizi was when I was around eight years old, she came to the States for her very first (and I believe only) visit and commented (in Japanese – she spoke no English and I understood very little Japanese) on how big and beautiful everything was. My parents took all of us to the Grand Canyon and the whole time she said little else other than Suteki da ne?! (Isn’t it beautiful).  I was more impressed with the little bottle of sand she brought me from Mt. Fujiyama – the sand was shaped like stars!  
The last time I visited my aunt was late Spring 2002.  She was healthy, spry and beautiful.  She lived alone (a widow for some years) and never had any children.  I believe she reintroduced me to Natto (fermented soy beans – I just ate some today!) on this trip. She was beyond delighted to see me and my then husband.  She was littler than me, but she gave the biggest, strongest and most yummy hugs. She had this fabulous way of making everyone feel welcome and like you were the very person she wanted to see in that exact moment. I hadn’t had any children yet, but had she met them, I’m sure Chizi and my girls would have been mutually smitten.    
My aunt kept two altars in her home: one was a buddhist altar where she chanted once in the morning and once at night and the other was an ancestral altar where she kept photos of family members who had passed and made offerings of tea and rice to their spirits every morning.  My understanding is that these are not uncommon practices in Japan, especially for older generations, but they were unfamiliar to me. She struck me as a very peaceful, happy and centered woman which is remarkable because this side of my family tends to stir up the drama.  I found her approach to life very refreshing and inspiring. She’s also the only other family member that I know of (besides me) who practiced yoga. 
My aunt was an accomplished calligrapher. A couple of times a week she taught this art to children ranging from elementary through high school aged students.  She clearly loved this. She loved her home and her neighbors, especially the little three year old girl who showed up every morning at her front door – her mother chasing after her –  shouting up the stairs Obachan! (an affectionate term similar to “granny”).  My aunt loved her life and the people she shared it with.  She made people feel calmer and more alive at the same time.  She had great energy.
One of my aunt’s calligraphy pieces
You can learn a lot from someone just by observing how much peace and joy they invite into their life.  My Aunt Chizuko was a great teacher to me in this way.  So while I grieve the loss of my aunt and all the visits we can no longer have, I also celebrate a life lived on purpose and a beautiful, free spirit that is bigger than either life or death.  Thank you, Auntie, for sharing your compassion, courage, wisdom and love – you leave with us an amazing legacy.  
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