Grow Together

By: Sakiko Isomichi, MDiv ’22

 Editor’s Note: Sakiko Isomichi is a third-year MDiv student at HDS and the parent of a fourteen-year-old child. In this article, Sakiko muses on what is has been like to complete her degree and explore her interest in materials and waste while her son is listening beside her. She wonders what he might think of her academic and intellectual interests and speculates about his eventual reaction to her work as he gets older and they continue to “grow together.”

It was an early September morning last fall, and I was sitting in front of my computer screen. I closed my eyes to rest in the virtual presence of my classmates and instructor in my Meaning Making class. Breathing together slowly, we gathered our intentions – to be together, to be ready to explore, and to listen to one another even amidst the pandemic.  

On my right was my then thirteen-year-old doing pushups. He was with his own classmates and teacher in virtual Gym. 

I felt self-conscious about what he might be hearing from my virtual class and what he might think of it. I was tempted to open my eyes. But I told myself, quickly, that it was my time to be with my classmates and my instructor.  

My son rarely comments on what I talk about when I am in my classes on Zoom; though, I know he can hear it all. I often wonder what he might think about my learning journey. Having lived together in a small studio apartment in the winter and a shack in the summer, I know he has heard a lot about the topics that I explore and probably knows more than most fourteen-year-olds do about things like: food waste, landfills, incinerators, Lebanese colloquial Arabic, religions, ethnography, Surat Yusuf, spirit, theology, anti-racism, morality, ethics, landscape, chaplains, design, religious literacy – and more.  

I suspect that, little by little, he’ll approach me about some of these topics in the years to come. Maybe he’ll come to me directly or I’ll learn through someone else how he makes sense of what he has overheard during my three years of study at HDS. For now, though, he seems to find comfort in reading, listening, and playing music. 

The last three years have not been the only time that I studied next to him. In fact, I am not sure if he remembers the time I was not studying. When he was three, having finished my associate’s degree, I went back to school to finish the rest of my bachelor’s degree, one class at a time. When he was ten, a year when I was between my undergraduate and graduate studies, I continued to take one class each semester.  

Over time, he watched my interest in waste grow through my work at a bakery. When he was eight, I drove a small pickup truck, collecting food waste from restaurants and bringing it to a farm to compost. In the summer, I monitored waste bins at a local agricultural fair to ensure that people were putting their trash, food waste, and recyclables in the right bins. When he was nine, we visited a landfill as part of a student group at MIT called the MIT Waste Alliance. He was reading a graphic novel about waste management before our visit, and I still remember him saying, “Wow, they really do have pipes sticking out,” as the novel depicted.   

Photo from Sakiko’s visit to a landfill in Southbridge, MA. Far in the horizon are the small pipes that collect methane and other gases.
Photo Courtesy of Sakiko Isomichi

My curiosity, or rather obsession, with waste manifests in every aspect of our everyday life. I tell him to eat every grain of rice as I was taught growing up in rural Japan. I was upset once when he brought home a metal straw, a prize he won at a school event. I knew too well that he was not going to use it. Do not take what you do not use, I said. 

Studying in the environment of human diversity and fluidity at the Divinity School, I have relaxed a little. Or so I hope. I have come to find room for the many ideas that different people have about waste and materials, given our varying wishes, perceptions, and ethics that are themselves intertwined with where we are from, who we want to be, and what we believe.  

For example, when I order books at the HDS library, they come with a sheet of paper with my name and the date printed on one side. I usually ask if I can take that piece of paper as a bookmark and scrap. I often get the response: “we recycle it.” I’ve come to understand that, while to me the amount of energy it takes to recycle the paper seems wasteful because it is still usable in its current state, to the library staff recycling is an ethical act. We simply have different values and approaches that dictate our perceptions of waste.

My son watches me navigate through moments like this with everyday materials and waste. Whatever he sees from my struggles, I hope it will be of some use for him to meet and get to know the people who may think differently from him. He watches me grow as I learn. I watch him as he grows. We continue to grow together.

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