A Season of Gratitude and Giving of Thanks

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I looked down at my lunch of roast pork and rice. As I neared the end of the rice the individual grains became difficult to keep on my fork. I thought about those tiny grains that I pushed around the bowl. The words of my grandmother echoed in my mind: “It takes a whole year to grow one grain of rice,” she used to say.
Even though I do not have many memories of my grandmother after I left Hawaii at age five, my own mother never retired grandma’s position on the growing of rice. For the rest of my life I have heard that same line repeated when rice has been left on a plate. I never thought about it much. I merely brushed it aside just as easily as I did the undesired food on my plate.
But today I did not. I stared into my bowl and wondered what it really meant. “Its just some rice” was my accompanying apathetic thought. But today I wanted to know what she meant. One grain took a year to grow? Did it really take a year?
Well it was just one grain. I thought of all those images from National Geographic with the laborers in large woven hats ankle deep in water turning their hands and claiming their harvest. One year? I tried to imagine the life that my grandmother lead growing up in Hawaii and then being sent back to Okinawa because her family could not afford to feed another mouth—or was it to help with the younger children? What ever the reason, I imagined in my mind a person waiting for those tiny grains to mature to fill a hungry belly, and that grain of rice waiting patiently to fulfill its destiny to promote the cycle of life on our planet.
One grain. One year. One chance. That moment came and went without another.
We have, as a people, lost our appreciation for effort. We don’t consider the labor needed to provide the things we consume to move through the day or get by in life. We don’t appreciate the work that goes into even the most simple comforts of modern life. They are expected, delivered, and life hurries on.
The memory of my grandmother is something I reflect on, not just with fondness but longing. She is a personal icon of a simpler time defined by hard work and determination—of success by sheer will and grit. Surrounded by tweets and posts and swamped with information, we crave simplicity. We crave nostalgia for its warm patina that glosses over our struggles. We buy new things that look old. Pinterest is awash in things newly painted but then distressed to look like they have served a lifetime of use and reliability.
It’s all for show. There is no meat on those bones. What we lack is substance. What’s missing is true grit. Things that look worn because they are. Wear is the sign of sacrifice, of discipline, of reliability, of trust in the things we use. That is an extension of the trust we place in one another.
I don’t know if she just didn’t want me to waste food because she had known a time and a place when food was not an entitlement. Or maybe because her parents were raised in a time when they knew no coins and likely paid their taxes in rice. Or maybe still, she shared the belief that exists in so many Asian cultures, that rice is the link between heaven and Earth.
What I do know is that she had lived when rice was so scarce that all that could be eaten was the seaweed left by the tide. It was food gathered in the dark of mirthless mornings by her small 8-year-old hands. I don’t know if Grandma wanted me to be grateful for the life that I had, in the land of opportunity. I wish I could hear hear say one more time: “It takes one year to grow a grain of rice.” In that moment I would ask her what she meant and then I would throw my arms around her and weep upon her reply.
Today, with resolve to be a better man, I ate every tiny bit in my bowl. Humbled I bowed my head and whispered “thank you” to our merciful Father-in-Heaven and then another to my grandmother.

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About Author

David Matayoshi is a writer, artist, designer, and thinker. He is currently the manager of digital content for Central Washington University. He is the proud father of three beautiful girls and husband to the best woman on Earth.

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