Harnessing Legacy Moments to Last a Lifetime
When we speak of what we want to share with others about ourselves, we are talking about the art of creating a personal narrative or legacy from the collection of events that make up a life. The call to write about a particular happening in my life focuses on a special time that will become part of my legacy. During those rare occurrences, when I’m in the midst of a moment of great importance, I can feel the weight of it, and I don’t know until much later how much of an impact it will have on the definition of my life going forward. An invitation to create a special gift for the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan to honor their marriage, on June 9th, 1993, was just such a moment.
My son was going to graduate from high school in June 1993 and was planning to go east for college in the fall. It was only January, but already I was feeling the unavoidable “letting go” process fast approaching, especially as I was the head of the graduation party committee. One morning, I was in my studio, feeling overwhelmed, when the phone rang.
“Hello, this is Masako Owada, calling from Japan.”
I was so engrossed in my own world, I almost said, “Who?” She was calling to ask me about a three panel, glass screen in my portfolio in which she was interested.
A subsequent phone call from my father, a law professor at Harvard Law School and head of the International Tax Program, revealed some surprising news. A past visiting professor from Japan had requested I share my portfolio with his colleague’s daughter, Masako Owada, to honor her upcoming wedding to the Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan. Several years before, in 1984, Owada-san had been a visiting professor at Harvard Law School the same year his daughter, Masako, was beginning her undergraduate freshman year at Harvard College.
Just before Owada-san left to return to Japan in 1986, he asked my parents to look in on Masako, then starting her junior year at Harvard, and to host her for the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. My parents were pleased to do so, and Masako began to call Dad her “American Father.” It was seven years later that the engagement was announced in January 1993.
The three-panel screen, in which Masako-san was interested, turned out to have some unresolved areas. I started over again by redesigning the original art work, and by refining my glass etching approach. I scheduled the delivery of the screen to take place in mid-October, because I knew it would take about nine months to complete it, from the redesign to delivery.
In order to smooth the way through the creation and presentation of the artwork in the Togu Palace, where the Prince and Princess were going to reside after their June wedding, I thought to develop a working relationship with Masako-san’s Lady-in-Waiting, Fusako-san. Our relationship evolved, both professionally and personally, over the 9-month period, with almost daily contact by telephone and email. By the time I met her in October, we were like two old friends welcoming each other. Working with her was a delight.
I worked on the art work steadily, from mid-January until Mid-October. My intention was to infuse each step in the process with wishes, such as:
-Let everyone who stands in front of this screen feel the love and hope I’m carving into in to the glass.
-May we find that diplomacy is the right way to embrace cooperation among peoples.
My hope was that the artwork would be displayed in a central area, where visitors and dignitaries from around the world would be standing together. The Prince and Princess now occupy the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, where their screen is the prominent feature in the Reception Room.
I was invited to come to Tokyo once the finished art was shipped. I would assemble the screen, in situ, at the Togu Palace and meet with the Prince and Princess for afternoon tea. I made the 14-hour trip, with a 17 hour time change, on the last Friday of the month. Little did I know what kind of weekend was in store for me. My father-in-law had slipped into a coma two weeks before I left, and my family would not hear of me canceling my trip to be with them through that very sad time. The night of my arrival in Tokyo, my husband called to say that the doctors recommended that we decide whether or not to remove all life support for Bob by Sunday. Then one of my best friends from childhood called to say his brother had committed suicide. I was alone in a new country with no one to whom I could turn. Saturday morning, Fusako-san called to say that Princess Masako’s grandfather passed unexpectedly. Upon reading an American newspaper, I read that Prince Naruhito’s mother, the Empress, lost the ability to speak on her 60th birthday (a temporary lapse, due to too much stress). My husband called Sunday morning to say that they all decided to remove Bob’s life support and to let him go. Surely I could not count on Monday’s scheduled meeting at the Togu Palace after such a traumatic weekend!
I called Fusako-san early Monday morning to discuss the tragic events. I remember bursting into tears when I heard her voice, while explaining what happened in my life; she assured me that the best course of action was for our meeting to go ahead, as a welcome distraction from our collective sorrows. Because Fusako-san had studied psychology at Columbia, she understood and accepted my copious tears and was very kind. Later in the day, I took the subway to the nearest stop to the Togu Palace, checked in with the lone guard at the gate, and walked, unimpeded, up the drive, to the entrance. Needless to say, that was a time before the kind of security checks we now experience were in place. Looking back, it seems a time free of the global tensions now present in cities around the world.
There were two helpers, who spoke no English, to help with the screen setup. It was quite a comedy routine, communicating with no common language! However, we did get the screen put together in the equivalent of a drawing room, where we were set to have tea and sweets together. Masako-san came in first to greet (and hug!) me and to ask about my parents. Then Naruhito-san entered, and we all sat down to tea and conversation. We shared the grief of our losses and talked about our families for several hours, as if we had always known one another. All this happened before we even looked at their wedding gift. When we finally stood up to convene in front of the screen, I was well-rewarded with their deep appreciation and love of the artwork. They even got down on the floor to see my dedication to them and signature at the bottom right side of the main panel. Altogether, it was a magical meeting, and one which could not possibly have been orchestrated beforehand. The whole encounter served to raise our spirits so we could go on, with strength, to meet our tomorrows.
To experience a moment in life that highlights the generous and loving sense of how sharing common joys and sorrows is part of being human, no matter one’s station in society. Furthermore, to experience something that one knows will be a defining moment that joins the legacy of one’s life lived is deeply gratifying. Ultimately, to be able to embrace such an occurrence as part of one’s legacy to hand down through one’s offspring, grandchildren, and on is one of the great treasures gifted to us during our lifetimes. I am proud to share with you a few photos of my experience and this story. Please write and document your important life stories to impact the legacies of your family members as well.
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Meg Oldman has been creating beautiful sand carved crystal and glass art for over thirty years. She uses both representational and abstract designs to communicate symbolically in a language of emotion and empathy. Much of her work is inspired by the current events that shape our lives, as well as her inner visions and memories. Meg is a graduate of The California College of Arts and Crafts. Her elegant work can be found across the world in such notable collections as The Imperial Palace in Tokyo and the Tiburon Library in Tiburon, California. She has developed distinctive techniques to create a broad spectrum of work. These include kiln-slumped sculptural work, fine detail, large-scale screens, and architectural installations, small sizes of glass, as well as decorative illuminated pieces. Meg carves her designs using pressurized sand, highlighting the deeper carved areas with light frosting techniques for balance and depth. Etched glass enhances and inspires offices and homes everywhere. Visit Meg at www.Illuminationsartglass.com.