Sharon Yamato


As a high-risk senior Sansei, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about all the things I should and could be doing to occupy my 16 hours of daily free time. Unlike my niece, Nancy Tashiro Castillo, another high-risk Sansei, who is working hard at her regular job at the L.A. County/USC Medical Center auxiliary unit, C.A.R.E.S., preparing food packets for patients (totaling 3,000 a day), I have no such altruistic daily plans or goals.

As a result, I’m stuck somewhere between relief and guilt, with the former far overtaking the latter. In fact, I find myself doing my best to escape doing anything that can be considered even remotely meaningful. I suppose you could call watching the insipid daily White House briefings an attempt to make sense of all of this, but if anything, it has only made me realize how far we (like Alice in Wonderland) have fallen down this deep rabbit hole and angrier than ever at our very own evil version of the Queen of Hearts, who doesn’t seem to care who is sentenced to die.

In my frenzy to wake up from this COVID nightmare, I’ve managed to find plenty of meaningless things to fill the day. Apparently, the average person is now spending 8 hours per day watching the boob tube, and after making it through four seasons of “Rectify” in less than a week (that’s nearly 40 hours), I am clearly one of them. I’ve since curtailed my TV dependence since it has my body aching from inactivity and brain hurting from passive watching, but I still keep searching for more TV series that will feed my addiction in the same way.

Fortunately, during Week 2 of the COVID crisis, I found another seemingly meaningless task that struck my obsessive-compulsive button. We just so happened to find a 500-piece UCLA jigsaw puzzle that we were able to put together relatively quickly — bestowing a sense of accomplishment that I had not felt since completing a final UCLA term paper some 40 years ago. While still feeling the euphoria of putting in those last pieces and nostalgia for all the games we were going to miss, I searched the Internet for the bigger challenge of another puzzle. When one of the few available 1,000-piece puzzles was delivered, we dove in with a vengeance, and hundreds of hours later, an even bigger sense of triumph resulted.

In an effort to make some sense out of this newfound exhilaration from puzzles, I searched the Internet to see if there were some redeeming value in putting these tiny bits and pieces together. Lo and behold, it’s reported that puzzles do everything from improving short-term memory, right and left brain function, to reducing stress and even improving social skills. The list of benefits was, in fact, so long that I expected to find that puzzles even provided some magical potion to cure the coronavirus.

As I wait for the delivery of my next 1,000-piece elixir, I’m once again thrown into the abyss of self-doubt and inaction that this pandemic has created. As a divided country searches for ways to prevent people from either dying and/or starving, my mind wanders to a future leveled out socioeconomically by this pandemic. As a “spoiled Sansei” (a term coined by former Rafu columnist and astute observer Brian Niiya), I haven’t experienced the hardships endured by my parents, who managed to shelter me from the adversity they suffered. My older, wiser self knows it is up to us as descendants of camp survivors to use our own families’ suffering to pave the way for all those less fortunate (especially immigrants being targeted) who are experiencing unjust poverty and even incarceration.

As soon as I finish my next puzzle, I sure hope I can find ways to avoid going back to a world of stratification by income and race, and closer to a place where we all work together for the common good.


Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *