Have the courage to grow older

­Oiru Yuki wo Motsu. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

­Oiru Yuki wo Motsu. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

老 (Oiru) means “to be old.” This character represents an old person holding a stick.

勇気 (Yuki) means “courage.” The first character’s top strokes indicate a nail and wood and the portion below indicates a bicep muscle. The second character’s top lines represent a person exhaling and the lines below represent steaming rice.

Awhile back, I received a Japanese book called “Have the Courage to Be Old,” by Ichiro Kishimi. This title seemed unusual to me since there are many books on staying young and trying to hold onto one’s youth. Kishimi begins his book with this quote: “To live means to get old. Everyone grows old, there are no exceptions. Every year, everyone grows one year older. Some people wish to stay young and at the same time, want to live a long life. As you get older, your body conditions surely change. When you were young, you experienced growth. However, as you get older, you feel your body slowly declines.”

This may sound negative, but Kishimi explains further why this is positive. Nobody can escape aging. Rather than running from it, being in denial, and having feelings of hatred toward it, we should accept it with courage. This reminded me of a quote by the Konko founder, “As you get older, you learn to promote yourself and understand gratitude.” The reality of life is that we may gain more life wisdom through experiences, but our bodies will not stay in the perfect condition forever.

In Buddhism, they teach that the four major tragedies in life are to live, to age, to get sick and to die. It is impossible to escape these scenarios. At 20, I realized that if I continued to live the way I was living, I would die with regret. This realization early in my life helped me and my search for wholehearted spiritual satisfaction during my lifetime in the hopes that it would carry over to the ancestral world. I decided to begin my search at the Konko seminary school. What I learned there not only helped me to grow spiritually, but also allowed me time to learn from others who were older and wiser than me.

At that time, I wasn’t concerned with aging and was more preoccupied with the thought of death. As I reached 60, I finally began to think about aging and the hardships the body must endure in the late stages of life before death. Around that time, I heard of a Japanese mountaineer named Miura who climbed Mt. Everest once he turned 75 and once again at 80 years old. I knew that I could not do that, but was able to accomplish my goal of climbing Mt. Fuji at that time.

My father lived until he was 100 years old. When he was 90, he began to study English. It is never too late to begin new studies or to continue training in the things that bring you joy and strength. Though I am 74 years old, I am still teaching shodo (calligraphy), Japanese martial arts and hosting Konko services through Zoom. I also perform Toritsugi meditation for people. I walk every morning with my dog Arigato-kun while picking up trash on the street.

I have also started a morning exercise class in Japantown’s Peace Plaza and continue to write books and cartoons about my life experiences. These activities allow me to appreciate my life and appreciate what I can do at my age. I try to focus on serving the community and world as best I can. I hope that you can utilize your passions, creativity, activities and work that will allow you to grow and remain curious no matter what your age!

Rev. Masato Kawahatsu is a minister at the Konko Church of San Francisco and Konko Center of South San Francisco, who teaches shodo (Japanese calligraphy). He can be reached at konkosf2@sbcglobal.net or (415) 517-5563. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei News.

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