Sunday, November 06, 2016
It's been a very relaxed and mellow birthday weekend, just as I would have wanted. Plenty of family time, but also some time for reflection.
This morning, messages started flowing in via FB, SMS, mail, etc. from people around the world wishing me well. I am grateful for everyone who has thought of me today. Truly, deeply, grateful.
One of my closest friends calls me "the most successful man he knows". I laughed at first. Later, thinking about it, I realized what he meant. On a relative value basis, it would be hard for me to aspire to more than I have achieved. Born to parents in a troubled, dissolving marriage, I was placed into foster care via Illinois Children's Home and Aid Society in Chicago at barely a year old. I was born premature, underweight and had a non-functioning left eye. My foster parents, Charles and Dorothy Leonard, already in their 40s, took mercy on me and brought me home to Villa Park, Illinois. I grew up in idyllic, sleepy suburban Chicago, with long summer nights and longer, harsher winters. I struggled hard growing up but my foster parents never gave up on me, even when I wanted to give up on myself.
Thinking back on how I started, I often wonder how I ever ended up here in Yokohama. Kids like me didn't get many lucky breaks. We didn't hit the lottery. We didn't grow up to be doctors or lawyers or captains of industry. Most of us ended up in prison or dead well before our time. Many of us were abused by our foster parents or shuffled from place to place, finally coming to rest in group homes until we would be pushed out at 18 with nowhere to go and no one to go there with. We'd end up... forgotten. The sad truth is that foster kids just didn't really matter.
Not me. I was the luckiest kid in the whole world. My foster family loved me. I had very few friends, but my friends were true and have been my friends all my life. I was warm and safe and had clean clothes and enough food. Other than my eyes, the rest of me worked pretty well. We had birthday and Christmas and Thanksgiving and Halloween. Most of the kids I met like me had it much, much worse, including my foster brother. Through hard work and just plain goddamn stubbornness, I moved my life forward, inch by painful inch sometimes, but FORWARD somehow.
Dreams come true, and I finally made it to Japan - achieving a goal I worked on for more than 10 years. That was 25 years ago and I've never looked back. Now I've been in Japan for more than half my life. No regrets at all.
Today, looking at all your messages, looking at all the people I have known and lives I've been a part of, I feel like my life has MATTERED. I've been a part of so much. I've had such a great adventure. So many people have come into my life and guided me, helped me, and taught me. You've all helped me arrive here - in this moment - and I feel it's been worth the struggle. I started my life with tears, but along the way you've helped me find laughter. Thank you for sharing your lives with me. Words aren't good enough (my words aren't anyway) to tell you all how grateful I am for your attention, your caring, your support. You've made this life worth living. THANK YOU.
A very special thanks to my wife Sanae, who knows how to make broken things useful again - you taught me how to forgive myself for what happened. Thanks for my family, especially my wonderful sons, who give me hope for the future. Thanks to all my friends all around the world who make travelling so enjoyable - I always look forward to seeing you. Thanks to my teachers for investing in me. Thanks to my students for trusting and believing in me. Thanks to my co-workers for supporting me. Thanks for not giving up on me.
I hope the next phase of my life will be even more about giving back for all the good fortune that I have had. I want to try to continue to make a difference in this World and never give up advocating for love, peace and understanding. I want to stay active in the martial arts and continue to guide the next generation of teachers who will help make the world better.
I want to live my life fully until my very last breath.
Thanks again for being part of my story. Please stick around until the end.
We've got plenty more to go.