For several television seasons actor / director / writer George Takei was known to Star Trek fans as around the world as Hikaru Sulu, the helmsman of the USS Enterprise. Today Takei is using his world-wide fame to tell the story of his childhood and the lessons it offers all of us about democracy and freedom.
The Japanese – American Takei was born in 1937 in Los Angeles to Japanese born parents. In 1942, fed by the anti-Japanese hysteria resulting from the outbreak of war with Japan, the five-year-old Takei and his parents were summarily moved to what the American government designated as “relocation camps”. Takei is quick to point out—much to the discomfort of most Americans—that these were nothing less than “concentration camps”: They concentrated Japanese-Americans in specific locations, confined them with barbed-wire fences, and discouraged their escape with sentry towers and machine gun toting guards.
In a recent interview on the Travis Smiley Show Takei made an off-the-cuff statement that caught my attention.
In discussing the concentration camp aspect of his world as a five year old, Takei mentioned that walking across the compound at night to visit the latrine meant being followed by the glare of a searchlight.
“I didn’t think anything about it,” said Takei, “I just thought it was cool that they lit my way so I could go pee.”
There is something wonderful and innocent about that statement. There is also a lesson that we could learn to make the process of growing older more fulfilling, less stressful, and more fun.
Takei’s family had been forcibly uprooted from the life they had built. They were taken from their homes, their neighborhoods, their families, and their jobs. They were treated as criminals simply because of their Japanese heritage. They had every right to be angry at a nation that purported to be the shining beacon of freedom in the world yet locked them behind wire fences. They had every right to question the morality of a nation that would watch their every act–even an act as simple and normal as going to the latrine—with suspicion.
A five year old, however, did not understand any of that. Five year olds are blessed with a sense of wonder and innocence and naiveté. The spotlight wasn’t watching him, it was simply lighting his way.
I wonder how many of us would benefit from embracing a little bit more of a child-like innocence and wonder. How many of us would experience a bit more joy in our life if we didn’t take the “big picture” quite so seriously, at least not all the time.
Let’s take a lesson from a five year old in a Japanese-American concentration camp. Let’s stop looking at the worst of things and look for the blessings. Let’s stop looking at the dark clouds and seek the silver lining.
Most certainly, we would all enjoy life and have much more fun if, like Takei, we saw searchlight not as watching us, but as lighting our way.