Cup 27

Person: Masaki Takahashi

Drink: Green tea from Wanderer’s Teahouse

Cup 27 started with an unexpected email.

My college newspaper ran a story about 52 Cups and Masaki Takahashi, a fellow MSU student, stumbled across it and felt compelled to email me.

It was the last line of his email that really hooked me:

“I love the idea of the blog because I am on my own mission to branch out as well. I have kept this guard up from letting people into my life and am hoping to let it down.”

This resonated with me—big time. One of the greatest things that happened to me during college was learning to let my own walls down. I came into college as a reserved freshman, but because I was 1,000 miles from home, I had to eventually open up to the people around me. Luckily, I’d made incredible friends that were supportive and the more I opened up, the better life got.

So I decided I had to meet him.  

When I walked into the teashop, I found him waiting at the counter. I introduced myself and we ordered tea—which, although a deviation from my coffee norm, I figured it was fine due to our location—and found a place to sit down. The teashop was crowded but had a comfortable atmosphere conducive to good conversation. After a few minutes of small talk, I asked him to tell me a little bit about himself.

It took him three sentences to answer my question,

“Well, I’m a Media Arts major. I’m a junior. I have a four year old son; that’s about it.”

Two things about his response caught me off guard. First of all, I never would have guessed this young 20-something year old student would have a son. And secondly, he was so nonchalant with his answer. Three sentences and a “that’s about it”? I knew there had to be more.

In his defense, he did tell me he was good at keeping his walls up.

So I continued to ask him questions until his incredible story eventually came out.

Masaki’s high school sweetheart got pregnant during their freshman year of college. It was an unexpected event and a scary time for the both of them, but they married and Masaki shifted his focus to doing everything necessary to take care of his new family. They needed money so he started working 80 hours a week, eventually dropping out of school because he couldn’t juggle a family, a job, and classes.

While the constant work kept food on the table, it took a toll on his new marriage. He thought he was doing the right thing—providing financial support, but keeping a family together takes more than just money. The strain of the situation eventually became too much and Masaki and his wife decided to split up.

As he told me this it was evident he was disappointed; both because he had lost someone he truly loved and because he felt like he’d let his family and himself down. In the process of this story he explained,

“I think I failed because I had never seen it done right.”

It wasn’t an excuse, nor was he passing the blame to someone else. He was simply stating a fact; he grew up in a rocky household and didn’t know what a stable family looked like, let alone how to create one.

Masaki, who was born in Japan, never knew his father. At the age of four, his mother, overwhelmed with single motherhood, sent Masaki to live with his aunt and uncle in America.

The transition from life in Japan to life in America—without his mom by his side—was inevitably difficult. And while the situation was better than life in Japan, it wasn’t ideal. His uncle struggled with alcohol and his home didn’t have an abundance of praise or encouragement.

By age 16, Masaki had some behavioral problems—in his words, he was a brat—and his aunt and uncle weren’t equipped to deal with these problems. They kicked him out of the house, sending him back to Japan to live with his mom.

So once again, he was shuffled across the world to a new environment. After being away for ten years—not to mention adolescence is already a treacherous period in one’s life—reconnecting with his mom was an interesting experience. Overall, he enjoyed the experience and the freedom he had to explore the city before eventually returning to graduating from high school and enrolling at Michigan State.

After growing up without a father, being sent away from his mom, growing up in a turbulent environment, and acclimating to an entirely different culture and then back again—it was understandable that he didn’t know how to raise a young family. Especially when he wasn’t expecting to have a young family in the first place.

Had I known his background in advance, I probably would have expected to meet a resentful, overwhelmed, man. He is juggling split-custody of a four year old (“the coolest kid in the world”), a full course load, and two jobs. That’s a lot for one man to handle.

But his disposition shows no trace of a troubled past. He is enthusiastic, gracious, and has a great outlook on life. I asked him how he did it—how he kept going when life got so hard. How he stayed on the right path when, without anyone supporting him, he could have easily gone down a much darker path.

His answers gave true insight to his character. He said he feels like he has something to prove to the world—and I could see the drive in his eyes. One day, he wants to look back at the years of struggles and see that all his pain was worth it. He is driven by the idea that a better life awaits him and his son, and if he can endure long enough, he will find it.

But in the meantime, he persists and holds on to his optimism. As he said, “As long as there’s a tomorrow, life is alright.”

As I talked with Masaki, I kept thinking about a quote I’d heard once, “Life is not holding a good hand; Life is playing a poor hand well.”

If I’ve learned anything in the last six months, it’s that nobody is dealt a perfect hand; we all have a unique set of issues. Seeing Masaki’s unwavering drive for a better life—despite his struggles—was an inspiration.

That drive is the reason he reached out to me. Masaki is in the process of rebuilding his life after his divorce. He wants to meet new people and get a fresh start.

He is also working on forgiveness.

Masaki has many people in his past that he could understandably be mad at, but a major lesson he’s learned is that harboring the pain and anger only makes you bitter. Instead of holding onto the resentment of his childhood, he is looking for the strength to forgive so that he can move on.

It was that thought that gave me pause.

Resentment is something that easily builds up—whether it is from a major incident, or small ones that gradually build up over time. As it builds, it starts to weigh us down; preventing us from moving forward.

It can happen unconsciously, which is why I appreciated my cup with Maskai. It forced me to think about what I’m carrying around with me and hatchets I need to bury.

Of course those are things I don’t often think about because forgiveness is hard. It’s much easier to just push those feelings to the back of my mind where I don’t have to think about them. But that doesn’t solve the problem.

Masaki is right, as hard as forgiveness can be, it’s much better than carrying resentment around for a lifetime. For him to endure great struggles and then turn around and forgive those that directly contributed to the struggles—notably an absent father and a distant mother—is remarkable.

And a valuable lesson I’ll take with me—let go, move on.

Isn’t it ironic that Masaki invites me to coffee as a way to let his walls down and in the process shows me that there are still some that I’m holding up.