Thursday, November 26, 2015

To Grandpa: A Thank You Letter

Thanksgiving and the holidays in general always prompt a period of reflection for me. The year is winding down, the seasons are in transition, and before we know it, a new year is upon us, lofty resolutions and all. 

This holiday season will be a bittersweet one. Though I am thankful for the time I will get to spend with many loved ones, I am reminded of a great presence I will dearly miss: my grandpa. A wise friend once told me during a difficult time, "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." In the same vein, I would like to take the opportunity during this season of gratitude to express my appreciation for the memories I shared with my grandpa.
Dr. Kenneth Fujii was my grandpa. But to me, “Grandpa” was far from being his only role. To me, he was my favorite teacher, an extraordinary storyteller, my moral compass and inspiration to whom I looked for the right thing to do. He was my hero and I grew up wanting to be just like him.

A lover of storytelling, Grandpa never failed to tell a good tale. From the books he read and movies that he watched to the events featured on the front page of the paper, his stories were vividly spun. I listened to these stories on the carpet of my family room floor huddled around the heater in the winter, on the drive to Lake Tahoe, during hikes through the woods and over the phone once I had gone to college. But the story I had become the most captivated by was not one you will find featured in any film or novel. My favorite one was his.
Grandpa first told me his life story when I was 10 years old. It was for my fifth grade Heritage Report. Part of the requirement was to interview a family member and learn more about my family’s history. I learned he lived during the Great Depression, spent his teenage years in an internment camp during World War II, served the country during the Korean War. And yet, despite all of these obstacles, he established his own dental practice, raised a beautiful and successful family, and never hesitated to give back to his community through all of his service organizations.
What resonated with me the most were the words at the end of his interview: “I hope to leave behind as my legacy the virtues of what my parents preached; that is to be honest, humble, study hard, work hard, persevere and have faith in whatever you believe in.” In that, he said it all.

These were not just words. Grandpa exercised these ideals in his every action.

He constantly told me that his deepest wish was for each generation to be better than the one preceding it. Better did not mean wealthier in a monetary sense. It did not mean heightened social status. Better meant richer in opportunities. Better meant heightened education and enrichment. Better in health. Better in happiness.
Grandpa was so forward thinking. Every so often, I would receive little notes in the mail from him. Like this one...

To Karisa:
Subject: What It Takes To Succeed
Enclosed is an example of what this person did. Thought you would be interested in this article.

Attached was an article on a Gates Scholar who was planning to attend Stanford in the fall.

Here’s another…

To Karisa
From Grandpa

He carefully hand cut and pasted his favorite quotations collected from newspapers, magazines, letters and speeches onto a sheet of paper.

MY FAVORITE IS THIS (he annotated in all caps)

“My interest is in the future because I’m going to be spending the rest of my life there.”
-Charles Kettering, American Engineer and Inventor

Grandpa, you will forever live in the future. Your stories and lessons, smile and humor, generosity and humility, will live on through us. Your lessons are the ones that I will teach my own children one day.

I will miss you and your tidbits of wisdom. But you guided me throughout my entire life and taught me ideals that I will forever live by, and for that I am eternally grateful.