The Other I

January 20, 2013

An interesting life

Filed under: Cultural Differences — theotheri @ 9:16 pm

I was interviewed for several hours some years ago for a BBC program about nuns and ex-nuns.  At the end, the interviewer said to me “You’ve lived an interesting life.”

Yes, I have.  And there are times when I have understood why “May you have an interesting life” is purportedly a Chinese curse.  But in truth, I do not think an interesting life is a curse.  I think it is a challenge.  I think every life is interesting.  In that sense, every life is a challenge.

But I will admit that once in a while, the life someone has led does stand out.  Beate Gordon whose obituary appeared last week in The Economist lived an interesting life.  Before World War II between the ages of 5 and 15, she lived in Japan.  Her father was a Ukraine concert pianist who taught at the Imperial Academy.

When the war ended, Beate had just become an American citizen, and was fully bilingual in English and Japanese.  In the hope of finding her parents, she tagged onto General MacArthur’s occupation team as an interpreter.  To her amazement MacArthur selected her with a group of several dozen men to write a new constitution for Japan.  She was given the job of writing the section about women’s rights.

At first she was thrilled, then astonished.  She was 22 years old, she was not a lawyer, but she knew Japan and she knew America.  She was committed and skilled.  Women had been subservient in Japan.  By the time Beate was finished, they had equal rights.

For the rest of her life, she worked to interpret Japan and America to each other.  Whenever she visited Japan, women, even years later, still wanted to take her photograph, to say thank you for her gift to them.

Beate Gordon died December 30th, 2012 at the age of 89.

She lived an interesting life.  I don’t think anyone would call it a curse.  Certainly not the women of Japan.


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