Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Sunday, July 16, 2017

"You Taught Us Well"—An Homage to Grace Nakamura

Delivered this afternoon at Grace Shinoda Nakamura's Memorial:

Grace and I had an immediate bond. Part of that may have been due to the first thing that she said to me when we met at El Rancho High School in 1975 or '76 when I had returned to teaching after a brief retirement to play music. She said, “I knew your mother and father before you were born,” and she was right. My parents and Grace and Yosh had attended the same church social group for young couples here in Whittier. For most people, that would have warranted a “HMMM” or a “How about that?” But for Grace, and therefore for me, that connection was something special, yet she must have had a million such connections.

Grace Shinoda Nakamura was probably the most enthusiastic person that any of us has ever met. She was a cheerleader for so many things and so many people, but she was more than a mere cheerleader. She was a champion. She championed students. She championed teachers. She championed schools. She championed the Gifted and Talented program. She championed the El Rancho Unified School District. She championed the arts. She championed the environment. She championed integrity. She championed her children and her family. She championed friendship, and so much more.

I must point out, although any one who knew her undoubtedly knows this, she was not merely an enthusiast for the big ideas or concepts, she was a champion of individuals as well. She was filled with encouragement for both the struggling student and the gifted student. She was filled with encouragement for the struggling beginning teacher and the accomplished master teacher. She encouraged and applauded the artistic pursuits of so many, and she shared that enthusiasm with others. Whenever our paths would cross—at a school event, an art event at Hillcrest or the Pomona Fair, or an art showing of one or more of the amazingly talented Nakamura clan, Grace would invariably say, “There's someone here that you have to meet.” I can honestly say that I am a better person for having met her.

I would like to share a poem that I originally wrote for a friend of Grace's and mine, Ralph Jim Kane, who left us much too soon while in the middle of his teaching career. I think it a very fitting homage to Grace as well:

You Taught Us Well

Some seeds burst from blossoms
Like a child's lost kite,
Soaring upon balmy breaths,
Stringless and free.
     Others lie sequestered
     Like a fossilized egg,
     Awaiting Resurrection
          In the garden of thought,
          Where freedom follows fancy,
          You nurtured both:
          You taught us well.

Some words seek compliance
Like a soldier's orders,
Shouting over every voice,
"Come...follow me!"
     Others whisper shyly
     Like a lover's heartbeat
     Sensing a kindred spirit
          In the field of soul,
          Where duty battles beauty,
          You captured both:
          You taught us well.

Some truths stand there, solid
Like statues in town squares,
Withstanding the elements
     Others must be sheltered
     Like blossoms pressed in books
     Fading, but not vanishing
          In the valley of time,
          Where memory is precious,
          You shared your love:
            You taught us well.

By Tim McMullen 
©1987, amended ©2014

There is a large hole in our hearts that will never be filled, but there is a much greater well in our hearts filled with the fondest memories and gratitude that we were touched by the miracle that was Grace Nakamura. Thank you, Grace, you taught us well.    

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