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A Date We Remember December 7, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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“We have to do something in our bodies; it not just a switch in the central nervous system that shuts them off. We have to actually dampen the spaces, the sensory spaces, in our system where the emotions are experienced. You’re doing something – with your breathing mechanism – which by definition affects your posture. It affects your relationship to gravity, when you’re walking around in this state of suppressed breath. Suppressed breath is by definition suppressed emotions, and vice versa…. and can contribute to the pain.”

– quoted from Q&A about “Emotions – Back Pain – Yoga: What do they have in common?” from Yoga Anatomy to Life Online by Leslie Kaminoff

Samasthiti (“Equal-Standing”), which is also Tādāsana (“Mountain” Pose), is something I often equate with standing at attention; like a soldier, you are ready for what comes next. When standing at attention properly, the spine is long, the core is engage, the kneecaps are lifted – but not locked – and the soldier can breathe deeply in, and breathe deeply out. There’s another way of “standing at attention” from martial arts that is a little looser in the limbs, but no less erect in the spine. I mention all of this in part, because it is the exact opposite bearing of someone who has experienced trauma and especially someone who has been attacked by surprise. The trauma, and the surprise of the attack, can leave a person hunched over and either panting, shallow breathing, and/or holding their breath – especially if they are still under attack. They are no longer ready, even if they are braced for what comes next.

I was thinking about the way we stand and move today, as I was re-reading a Los Angeles Times article about Lauren Bruner and Ed McGrath. Long story, short, Mr. McGrath wrote a book about U. S. Navy Fire Control Chief Petty Officer Lauren Bruner, who was the “Second to the Last to Leave” the USS Arizona today in 1941, when the USS Arizona was sunk during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. When he passed last September, he was the “last to return” – as the other three survivors (Don Stratton, who passed earlier this year; Lou Contor; and Ken Potts all intended to be interred with their families.)

The Imperial Japanese Navy ordered 353 bombers, fighter plans, and torpedo planes to attack 8 U. S. Navy ships in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. The 2,400-plus men and women who died in the attack were the US’s first military casualties of World War II – even though the country wasn’t then involved in the war. Almost half of those casualties (1,700 sailors and Marines) were on the USS Arizona.

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy –“

– quoted from the December 8, 1941 speech to the Joint Session of the U. S. Congress by President Franklin D. Roosevelt

The attack, the first of its kind on American soil, drew the United States into the war; which led to the retaliation strikes in Japan – including the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which killed between 129,000 – 226,000). The United States engagement in World War II, including the atomic bombings, led to the end of the war and, most importantly, the end of the Holocaust (thereby saving millions of lives). But the article wasn’t really about the attack so much as it was about the friendship that formed between two men and how that friendship led to healing.

What I originally remembered about the Los Angeles Times article by David Montero was how Mr. McGrath contacted a dozen survivors of the attack because he wanted to make a documentary – and that retired Fire Control Chief Petty Officer Bruner was the only person who responded. I remembered that the latter hadn’t talked about his experiences for multiple decades and that he didn’t initially talk about them to Mr. McGrath. I vaguely remembered that the Sailor was supposed to meet a beautiful woman for a first date, that never happened, and the dual images he recalled of two Sailors that he thought were OK, but clearly were not.

Oddly, I also remembered that he outlived four wives and/or significant girlfriends. Finally, I remembered being struck by how the lives of the two men changed as they continued to have conversations, conversations about life… and then, eventually, about the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941. I remember thinking about finding Second to the Last to Leave USS Arizona: Memoir of a Sailor – The Lauren F. Bruner Story by Ed McGrath and reading more. There were a couple of things, however, very significant things, that I did not remember.

“My name is Lou Conter and like Lauren Bruner I was a crew member on the USS Arizona and today I am one of its last survivors. Lauren is my friend. I have this book from cover to cover, and I know how difficult some of its chapters were for him to write. I want to assure anyone who is considering to read Second to the Last to Leave, that Lauren’s story is exactly how it was, and a Hell on Earth for every crew member.”

– Lou Conter, QM3/c (Quartermaster, USS Arizona crew member and survivor)  

I did not remember how badly Chief Petty Officer Bruner was injured. How after being shot, suffering burns over two-thirds of his body – including his hands – he “spent several months recovering in a hospital before ultimately taking an assignment as a gun captain on a destroyer in the Pacific theater in 1942.” Today I was struck by how that was even possible. It was a miracle that he and four other badly burned Sailors managed to escape the sinking battleship, but that he would return to battle. Then I learned that two of the three other survivors, still living at the time of the article, had also returned to service – despite their severe attack-related injuries! How would that look – how would that feel – to return to a profession where you are required to be “at the ready” after experiencing so much? How could you stand at a attention after enduring so much?

Yes, yes, I know that not every job in the military requires one to stand at attention for long periods of time. That wasn’t the point of my question. What I really want to know is how do you breathe and how does that affect your life (and your capacity to heal).

“‘Being able to tell him what happened lifted a great weight from my shoulders,’ Bruner says now….

‘I told Ed the books so I wouldn’t have to talk about it again.’”

– quoted from the Los Angeles Times article “A Pearl Harbor survivor spent decades trying to forget it. Then one man got him talking.” By David Montero

Chief Petty Officer Lauren Bruner said that the more he talked about his life, in general, the fewer nightmares he had. I imagine that “great weight” coming off of him – a weight he didn’t realize he was physically carrying – made it easier to breathe. His friendship with Ed McGrath was like a crane that helped lift that weight. It was something neither of them saw coming… and I think healing often begins like that.

A lot of stories come to mind when I think of healing beginning in unlikely places, especially as it relates to World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor. One of those stories is the story of the blackened canteen ceremony, which started in Shizuoka, Japan in 1945.

According to the stories, during the raids over Shizuoka (which killed over 2,000 Japanese), two B-29’s crashed in mid-air. A Buddhist man, Fukumatsu Ito (who later became a monk), buried anyone killed during the raids – including all 23 members of the American aircrew. Mr. Ito found a blackened and crushed canteen as he was recovering the bodies from the crash and every year, on the June 20th anniversary of their deaths, he would pour whiskey from the canteen on a cross he had erected in their honor.

In 1972, Mr. Ito invited Americans from Yokota Air Base to the ceremony and, as he was aging, decided to pass the torch…er, canteen to a younger man, Dr. Hiroya Sugano. Dr. Sugano, who was 12 during the 1945 raids, was inspired by his grandfather (also a doctor) to honor all who had served during the conflict – regardless of their nationality. In 1992, the ritual of pouring whiskey from the canteen and sprinkling flowers petals into the water became a ritual during Pearl Harbor commemorations.

I could not confirm if, or how, the Blackened Canteen Ceremony was offered publicly this year. However, today I think of it, Fukumatsu Ito, Dr. Hiroya Sugano, and the friendship between U. S. Navy Fire Control Chief Petty Officer Lauren Bruner and Ed McGrath. I think of the healing that came from those friendships and from the simplest of gestures – being present with someone and their memories.

“‘The Blackened Canteen ceremony is more than appropriate,’ says [Richard] Rovesk. “Our two countries need to be role models during these difficult times in this turbulent and even dangerous world.”

– quoted from the People Magazine article “Long-Ago Secret Ceremony of the Crushed Canteen Now a Staple at Pearl Harbor” by Susan Keating (published 12/07/2018)

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Who She Was (Is Who She Is) December 7, 2020

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“A single life touches many hearts…. this reflective space is here for sharing thoughts of a loved one and record memories of a life that will be forever remembered.”

– quoted from I Am Her: She Writes Her Story, Day by Day. And Every Word is True. By M. H. Clark

December 7th always sticks in my head for two reasons. First, in 1941, it became what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called “a date which will live in infamy” – and the events of that day will come be the focus of a second blog post and this evening’s class. A few years later, this became my mother’s birth date. As many of you know, my mother did not make it to today, her 73rd birthday. During her funeral, my brother eulogized her and asked that his dear friend, Pastor Johnson, complete the eulogy. It was seamless and, well… they said I could share their eloquence.


“Profound, inspirational, and touched my heart.

Now, when anybody asks how Bert did, you can say, ‘What he said at the beginning was profound, inspirational, and touched my heart.’

When I was about 3, I jumped in the driver’s seat of the family car and found the only car in the cul-de-sac and hit it. So, from the beginning, I was a handful. My mother always used to talk about how I sat in an ant mound and let the ants bite me. So, at a young age, everyone could tell I was a little off.

Some would say I was the black sheep of the family. You hear all the time, a mother’s love is unconditional; but, I can say firsthand, I tested that theory over and over again.

Ahma, the name Eric gave her, would always get upset with me and say, “OK Bert, you’re always right.” And I would say, “You always told me I could do anything I wanted to be so I decided I would be right all the time.”

I would love to say we saw eye-to-eye all the time, but that wouldn’t be true. But, I can honestly say I grew up privileged. So much so that in high school they called Ahma and Hey ‘The Huxtables.’

Y’all remember back in the day you had to be home when the street lights came on. II had ignored that rule several times and I was in a crowd of kids, and we say a silhouette coming up the street with what looked like a long snake in her hand. But it wasn’t a snake. It was a nicely sized belt for me.

And the time my ‘big’ brother – I only say big brother because his girth is larger than mine – he fell one night and Hey was at work in DC. It was late and we had to jump in this convertible with a bad top; so we had to let it down and when I say it was cold…that would be an understatement.

Another time, I had been grounded and wanted to go to the ‘After the Homecoming’ and hangout. She let me go on the condition that she shadowed me the whole time. I realized all this was the love she had for me. At the age of 14, I became a very angry child. And about the age of 17, Ahma came to me and asked point blank, ‘Is this the reason?’ And I lied and said, ‘Why would you ask me something like that!’ But I knew she knew.

One time, 2 years ago, Hey got one of those scam calls where they say your son is in jail and needs money. Ahma immediately called ‘Chell and said, ‘What do we need to do to get him out.’ Not, ‘Oh my God, what did he do now?’ What I’m saying is, she was always there and a lot of times she didn’t want me to know it was her.

On August 7th, my mother went from a physical person I could touch and hug, to memories and pictures. I know from the day we are born the hour glass starts running and nobody but God knows how much sand is in the glass. But, even though we know this, and we know God does everything for a reason, it still don’t make sense.

Ahma asked a lot of times, what I was running from and the answer is hurt and pain. And I think sometimes that I would go before a lot of people. Pam, Ahma’s grandmother, was well in her hundreds. Miss Jean fought cancer and was in her 90’s when she passed. So, who would expect my loving mother would go so soon.

In closing, time is precious. Never take anybody for granted that you love. Tell them every chance you get. My last words to my mother were, ‘No, I don’t want to fly. Let me call you back.’ I’ve got a lot of condolences and ‘sorry for your loss,’ but I would trade them all for 30 more minutes with her.

Everyone says, don’t think of the loss; think of the good time and thank God for the time you had – and that’s true. And no matter what, we are all blessed and we should never complain. And because of that I thank God, even though…”

“I’ve had some good days.
I’ve had some hills to climb.
I’ve had some weary days
And some sleepless nights
But when I, when I look around
And I think things over,
All of my good days
Outweigh my bad days.
I, I won’t complain.”

– the beginning of the song “I Won’t Complain,” sung a cappella by Pastor Johnson as a segue between into his remarks


I offer much gratitude to my “bigger” brother Bert and Pastor Johnson for remembering our mother in a way that was “profound, inspirational, and touched my heart,” from beginning to end. I do not have a recording of their seamless beauty; however, here are Cynthia Erivo and Amber Iman in 2016, honoring Cicely Tyson, with a tribute to women and a performance of the song that is an equal gift.

### Daughter, Granddaughter, Sister/Cousin, Best Friend, Neighbor, Wife, Mother, Aunt, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother, Seer, Seeker, Keeper of Secrets, Inspiration ###