The mechanical hum of the oxygen machine gently pulsated, relentlessly filling the silence of the room with a hiss. A small plastic tube snaked into my grandfather's nose. My grandmother had passed away several months earlier and my grandfather now lived by himself with only my mother and uncle as frequent guests. At this time, I was at back home in Oakland for a few days in the spring, taking a break from college in Southern California.
Due to my parents both working full time, a huge portion of my childhood was spent in the care of my grandparents. After school everyday until junior high, I spent the few hours with "Baba and Jiji" until my parents came home. Normally, competent Japanese grandchildren would call their grandparents "Obaa-chan" and "Ojii-chan". But I was John, the eldest grandson, and thus got away with murder. "Baba" and "Jiji" was my childhood slang version of the proper Japanese.
My grandparents were the "teenagers" of parenting. They had all the privileges and none of the responsibilities that my parents had to make sure I grew up properly. They weren't burdened with making sure I studied my homework or tied my shoes correctly. That was the duty of my parents. Thus Baba and Jiji were free to be both a source of emotional care (aka spoiling) but also a source of uninhibited guidance and unconditional love. Thus, in an unfair way, they were actually closer to me than my parents in some ways during those early years.
Sitting alone in front of me on the couch was Jiji. He was a man who grew up in San Francisco in the early 20th century. A man that loved movies and baseball and everything American. A man that was thrown into the Internment Camps during World War II as if he was non-American. A man who bought a house in Oakland where the neighbors offered to buy back his house at twice the price to keep the neighborhood all-white. A man that raised a family and watched his children and grandchildren prosper. A man that smoked for decades, had bypass surgery and yet just kept on going. This man, now lovingly reduced to the title, "Jiji", was famous for such "honest" quotes as "I don't give a shit, this is family time" (slamming fist on table) after he got drunk in a restaurant during a family outing.
He was my hero.
He stared at me and spoke, "I'm ready to go."
I replied with the predictable, "No No, you can't go, you have to live to see...". But it was no use. I could see it in his eyes.
My heart was torn to pieces. But intellectually I could see he wasn't depressed or suicidal or anything but completely and unapologetically sincere. He was indeed ready to go because he was content with his life. It was a tough life, but a good life indeed. He lived through the war, tragedy and hardship. Yet, despite all that, he somehow managed to live well and produce a thriving family.
That's when I realized that we should all be so lucky to live to such an old age and truly be, ready to go. He was truly fortunate to reach a place most of us will only strive for. He was a man rich in all the intangible wonderful things in life. And until the very end, he was always and will always be, my hero.