As one gets older, it is probably normal to ponder the meaning of life, and evaluate one’s own choices. Is it true, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, that all is vanity, we live, we die and that’s pretty much it?
Yes I graduated from college – thirty years ago, and my mother was very proud of me, but did it really change the world all that much? I won the national championships a few times, but someone else has won them for the past twenty-four years.
All in all, life has been good, but there are signs it is more than half over.
Life really changes. I remember a time when the rhythm of my life was governed by the U.S. Senior Nationals, I started training January first with a plan to peak in April. I also remember the first year that the senior nationals were over before I even remembered they were in April. I was in graduate school studying for a Ph.D. and the time just slipped by. Earning a Ph.D. was a great experience in many ways. My doctoral advisor, Dr. Richard Eyman, a true mentor, passed away a few years ago.
Margot Sathay was a great judo player. When I lived in Japan, she offered a matwork class at the women’s division of the Kodokan. Three of us came religiously, me, Michiko Sasahara and Hiromi Fukuda. All three of us won world medals. Probably the biggest thing she did for me, though, was tell me when I was planning on dropping out of college in my senior year and staying in Japan that she would not teach me and that she would talk to Osawa and tell him not to let me work out at Waseda any more either. I went back home, graduated from college, got three more degrees and never saw Margot again. She taught me an incredible amount of matwork and she kept me in school. She really did change my life, but, to her, I was just one of a thousand people she taught over the years. She died a few years ago.
Diane Pierce (Tudela) was my hero when I was young. She won more judo matches than any American in history up to that time, won U.S. Grand Champion (the winner of all weight divisions) when she was only 125 pounds. She taught me a tomoe nage juji gatame combination that I won countless matches with and she taught me about facing life fearlessly. Diane survived a bout with cancer many years ago and is now a great-grandmother.
It was an honor to be coach for the Nanka girls team and gratifying when they won the national championships. My fellow coach that year, Steve Bell, passed away about a year ago.
There have also been mistakes and awful times. My husband died, and although he left behind wonderful children and permanent memories, he is still dead. To the people who say that it will all be okay after a while I can only reply that “a while” must be longer than thirteen years. I have made stupid decisions in everything from during matches, to kids I could have coached better if I knew more at the time, to decisions in my professional life which, in retrospect, should have been pretty obviously wrong to anyone smarter than a hamster.
Yesterday, I was writing a program using some relative rare features of a programming language, something that I had been wanting to learn better, and a task just happened to come across my desk that required those. As I was working, the thought crossed my mind,
“I love what I am doing. This is exactly what I want to be doing at this minute and they are paying me for it. This is amazing.”
Thanks to Margot for not letting me drop out of school.
Today, I was doing matwork at the training center and in the middle of it, I thought to myself,
“I love this. I love my life.”
Over seventy years ago, in the book, “How to be happy, though human” , W. Beran Wolfe
"If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator. He will not be striving for it as a goal in itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life twenty-four crowded hours of the day."
There is an old Spanish proverb ,
"There is no happiness; there are only moments of happiness."
In many ways, directly and indirectly, judo is responsible for what has made me happy. Maybe that is the real meaning after all.