Today, January 8, 2011, marks one month since the death of one of my closest friends from college. Masako was diagnosed with 4th stage cancer along her optic nerve exactly at this time of the year last year; she fought a brave, cheerful, wonderful battle all year... and passed away on December 8th. There's a very real way in which I still haven't processed the news of her death, largely because she was in France and we hadn't seen each other in years anyway; I had no funeral or memorial to attend, so it's hard to grasp her absence. I know I will never hear from her again, but I don't know I will never hear from her again. 2010, for me, will always be Masako's year. It is the year she died, but it is also the year she lived, lived with all her might. I will always be grateful for having been part of her life in those last months, for being able to accompany her (albeit long distance) on her journey. When she lost all her hair to chemotherapy, she wrote to me about her different wigs and how much she enjoyed surprising the grocer with different hairstyles from day to day (apparently, the French public health system will give free wigs to cancer patients). When she became really weak and was told she needed to rest and put on weight, she wrote to a friend about eating a lot and "drawing pictures of round things like hippos." Even when her face started to get paralyzed in what would be the fatal relapse of her cancer (it took over her brain and bone marrow), she wrote to me about how much her little nephew was enjoying the "game" where she could smile at him with only one side of her face. She never denied her illness or her pain, although I suspect she underplayed it for our benefit, but she always approached it with a courage and a humor I'll never forget. I did not know just how strong she was until an illness like this showed me. Even as I feel the grief and the unfairness of her passing, I am so grateful for everything she taught me as she moved from this life into her next. 2010 will always be her year, and I think I will be learning 2010's lessons for a long time to come.
Masako had many dreams for world peace; she cannot work towards those dreams any longer. But I intend to. We became friends through the Amnesty International Club at college (which we tried time and again to set up!), so I have decided to honor her by doing at least one Amnesty International petition every month, on the 8th of the month (I stopped doing those with any real regularity, but now I feel I must). Every time I do that, I remember the best and most powerful parts of this little French-Japanese woman who was equally passionate about her stuffed green hippo and her dream of ending the femicide in Guatemala.
This is the cause I chose to support today. It is an appeal to the French authorities to stop discrimination against the Romanian population in France, and I know she would have signed this if she could. I am doing it on her behalf, and I hope some of you will too.
I leave you with this photo that Masako took when she came out of hospital after a really positive development during her battle against cancer. It lifts my heart every time I look at it: