Growing up, I went to six different grade schools, two junior high schools, and two high schools. Moving every year or every other year, we were always the new kids in school. That meant my brother was always getting into fights to prove himself. For me it was the mean girls. We never lived anywhere long enough to fit in, or develop lasting friendships.
I always wanted to be part of a group, but ended up alone a lot of the time. The good part is that I learned to be alone. I like my own company and don’t fear being by myself. Growing up not belonging in America because of how I looked, it was always the taunt, ”Go back to where you came from!” And yet not able to go “back” anywhere because I was born and raised here. I did live in Hawaii where my parents were born and raised, but since I did not grow up there, it was obvious that I didn’t understand the slang, and nuances of culture. Living in Japan also, I did not speak fluently enough to fit in with the culture, even though I physically looked like I did.
In my working life, I was often not only the first and only woman in the room, but also the only Asian. So, for all of my life I have had a longing for belonging. When I started studying tea, I found a place to belong. It is because most of us who study tea who are not Japanese, we are strangers in another culture. We can bond in our love of Chado, the beauty, the learning, and the life changing experiences. The friendships that I developed over the 40 years I have been devoted to tea, have enriched my life in ways I could never have known.
When there is a very large gathering, for example a koshukai, or an anniversary event, it is like a homecoming or a reunion of extended family. I imagine it is like being a fan of a sports team (which I have never been) or attending a Comic con. You don’t have to explain why you have been a student of tea for 40 years, or why you are moved by a dark brown, out of round, pottery bowl, or how sublime the sweet is before you eat it.
When I introduce the way of tea to new people, I want to make them feel welcome to the world of Chado. I want them to belong in a way that I was welcomed to that world by all of my sensei, sempai, classmates and students who helped me along the way. I finally belong.