About a week into the “shelter-in-place” orders to reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, I gradually immersed myself into my new normal. Teleworking from home on my three laptops has become my new normal. Now, I’m judiciously crafting my work so I can cut back to two laptops. I’m versed in Skype and accessing certified customer websites. Teleworking translates to more cooking at home, and more grocery shopping amidst the imposing scarcity narrative. Have you tried buying toilet paper at Target? Just asking.
During lunch, I stopped by my favorite Japanese supermarket in Torrance. After all, I’m a third-generation Japanese American. I located my favorite bento box lunch with rice, grilled salmon, and Japanese-style fried chicken. Yeah, it’s that good. I also found some produce and cleaning supplies that I needed for home.
I proceeded to the cashier counter. The grocery clerk checked my items and put them in my bags. I said, “Thank you.” The clerk, who was Japanese American, about my age, wearing her surgical mask, said, “Thank you for always saying ‘Thank you’.” I guessed that she was smiling. She explained that not everyone says “Thank you” when checking out their items. I smiled. I said, “Thank you.” Again.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the highest-paid movie star on Planet Earth. The Rock lives by his favorite quote: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” Amen. I was just doing what Dwayne would have done. I was just doing what my mom raised me to do. Still, the fact not everyone says “thank you” to those providing their service occurs as WTF? Rather, that’s just plain wrong.
Throughout my own trials, tribulations, and challenges I’ve gotten that I really don’t know what’s going on inside of others, so I have compassion for them. That nice clerk’s husband could be at home with COVID-19. I just don’t know. As The Rock said, “Just be good to people.” Amen.
In “A Tale of Two Cities”, Charles Dickens wrote:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
These may be the very ‘worst of times’: The Season of the COVID-19 Pandemic. As of April 23, 2020, worldwide over 175,000 people have died from the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S. alone, more than 40,000 people have died and over 800,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19. The numbers are staggering. They keep growing.
The arduous road lies ahead, still without a vaccine or the determined flattening of the pandemic peak. Yet, there’s still “the spring of hope” amidst the seeming darkness and despair.
In the midst of this worldwide COVID-19 pandemic are those who serve selflessly as first responders, doctors, clinicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, and grocery store clerks. They’re all being of service to all of us.
In my 25 years of Aikido training with the late Mizukami Sensei, I got that being of service is a profound way of making a difference in the world. Sensei taught me Aikido, and he taught me what it is to be a good man in his sphere of service. He made a difference. Whether Sensei spoke to me loudly because I wasn’t present to his instructions or said “That’s it.” When I got it, I said, “Thank you, Sensei.” That’s the training. That’s grace, being grateful for all that Sensei bestowed upon me.
Grace is the two-way street, as well. Sensei was the humblest and most gracious man on Planet Earth that I knew. He would thank me for covering his Aikido classes, or for giving him a ride to various events. Honestly, I was just loved sharing my life with his. Sensei’s “Thank you” was meaningful. In some sense, I got the job done in the bigger picture, as a good human being.
In Japanese culture, Aikido is referred to as budo, “the martial way” or martial arts. It’s the basis of Bushido, “the way of the samurai.” The samurai were noble warriors in feudal Japan. Paradoxically, samurai means “to serve”; to be samurai was to be of service. In Aikido, before and after practice with your partner, you bow. That means “Thank you” for being of service. That’s grace.
The clerk in the supermarket or the server who brings your take-out order pizza may not be samurai. Still, they deserve our profound grace and gratitude. Maybe you don’t have to bow. Still, at least say, “thank you.” In the words of The Rock, “Just be good to people.” I’m more than just saying. Thank you.
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