I did not know Suzanne well, only having had her pointed out to me when I arrived as a college freshman. She was older than most of my classmates. Her voice major nearly guaranteed that we would have few classes together. Our schedules seldom coincided.
Suzanne, always pleasant, gentle, and Japanese, seemed exotic although she would have been bewildered to hear that. Her low-keyed, unassuming demeanor ironically mirrored my own reticence. Suzanne was a Hiroshima survivor. My awe of her was subsumed by a sense of embarrassment. Political and military arguments aside, she and her family had been through a great ordeal.
It is now, after fifty years, that I begin to know Suzanne. It is now that it is too late to have the honor of her friendship. As our fiftieth college reunion approached each classmate was invited to write their own life story for a memory book. [Her words, between quotation marks, are taken from her memory book account.] The stories were honest and amazing, but few more so than Suzanne’s.
Her exposure to music began in a centuries old cathedral after the bombing of her home city. To ease the pain of loss and displacement, the Jesuits working in Hiroshima began an evening program of songs to which all were invited. “…many people joined to sing together happily under the beautiful star lights. Of course I always joined in…”
Suzanne tells us little of the loss and pain of those years, preferring to focus on her opportunities for education, musical training, and travel to Hawaii which was provided by an uncle who had immigrated to the Islands. When she returned home to work as a secretary for the U.S. Navy she organized two choirs. Good fortune followed her and she was invited to become a foreign student at Mt. St. Scholastica College to study voice and music.
Throughout her story, Suzanne pauses to celebrate her “unbelievable good luck” and her determination to “accomplish every moment of the chance.” Her hard-won achievements and lasting friendships were gifts, blessings. Each opportunity was embraced gratefully, humbly, and fully. Each new challenge was met with energy and a determination to “accomplish every moment.” Suzanne succeeded at all she attempted because she viewed each ‘lucky break’ as a gift she must make herself worthy of possessing.
After college, her odyssey brought her home where she found employment with an Italian company. She helped set up their Japanese branch. Her modesty is again apparent, “When I was asked, being a person who loved to take any chance even with foreseen difficulty, decided to agree.” She was more than successful, working in her home country and attending exhibitions all around the world. I imagine that she grew to know every sales engineer and manager in the company. When she retired, Suzanne was honored with celebrations in Paris and Bologna, where friends invited her to re-settle. How proud she was of the engraved gold medal she received! “The fourth one received since the establishment of the company.” Yet she was humble, retaining her simplicity, viewing herself as a loyal employee and faithful friend.
Retirement meant many changes. First on Suzanne’s agenda was to get a driver’s license at the age of 65, a “big surprise to every teacher.” She needed to have one to better care for her aging mother—besides their home was “located up the hill.” While several “youngsters” failed the course, Suzanne sailed through with flying colors!
For seven more years, Suzanne cared tenderly for her mother. She “tried to make her days enjoyable and happy.” It was her privilege to do so, expressing great joy when her mother was baptized into the Catholic faith in 2002 on the fiftieth anniversary of Suzanne’s father’s conversion.
Suzanne’s modestly lived life of service, peace, and happiness has not been blessed with good health. The seeds sown on August 6, 1945 sealed her fate even as it radiated hope within her young heart. She fought several cancers, painful and unrelenting. Yet each day that remained to her was a blessing. Her younger sisters provided care and comfort in her last illnesses. Suzanne’s last wish for her classmates was expressed, “Praying for you and your loved ones that utmost peaceful and happy days continue.”
Suzanne died this month surrounded by family, comforted by her faith, and grateful for her journey.
*aDieu—where the center holds and the end folds into the beginning there is no such word as farewell. (P.L. Travers, What the Bee Knows)