Ash Wednesday – Storing Up Treasures

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

February 22, 2023, Words By: Susan Okamoto Lane, Image By: Susan Okamoto Lane

Made Flesh

On a recent trip to Bainbridge Island, a ferry ride away from downtown Seattle, I visited a tribal cemetery at the Suquamish Museum. Chief Seattle (c. 1786 – 1866), a powerful Suquamish and Duwamish tribal leader in the 1800s, for whom Seattle is named, is buried there. His prominent burial site is near the water with a large monument, pictures, inscriptions, and historical information.

What struck me more than Chief Seattle’s monument were the rows of plain, worn cement markers that said only “Unknown.” As I walked slowly among them, I wondered about the people and stories buried here. How did they live? How did they die? How old were they? Did they have families? What did they laugh about? What were they proud of? Who loved them?

That evening, I learned that my 99 year-old Aunty Maureen had just passed away. She was my Dad’s sister, the eldest of four children born to first-generation Japanese immigrants. She and her family lived and worked on a farm in Kent, Washington, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and brought the United States into the war in the Pacific.

Ten weeks later, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing what was to become the mass forced removal and incarceration of more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast of the United States. Under the guise of national security, the executive order was a response to long-standing resentment and mistrust of people of Japanese ancestry, as well as the hysteria that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Individuals and families, people with roots in their communities, were given less than a week to pack what they could carry, and sell or make arrangements for their farms, businesses, homes, and other belongings. Then, they were shipped off to temporary “assembly centers” (fairgrounds, racetracks, warehouses), and then to one of ten “relocation” (concentration) camps in desolate locations. My Dad’s family went first to Pinedale Assembly Center in Fresno, California, then to the Tule Lake concentration camp in northern California, and finally to Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming, a journey of more than 2,500 miles.

While incarcerated at Heart Mountain, my Dad joined the U.S. Army to fight in Europe; my Aunty Maureen and her younger sister went to work and attend school in New York City. They were among the Nisei (second generation) allowed to leave camp after answering the “loyalty questionnaire” correctly.

After World War II, Maureen stayed on the East Coast and eventually settled in Connecticut. She lost three husbands to terminal illnesses, and a tubal pregnancy prevented her from having children of her own. 

My siblings and I are remembering what a strong, resilient, hard-working, hospitable, funny, and straight-talking person Aunty Maureen was. She embodied character qualities like these, and leaves us with memories, stories, and her own examples of how to keep going, take risks, and speak out. These are some of the treasures that last.

We can all list ways we’ve been tempted to give time, energy or money to activities and things that are ultimately fruitless. Matthew 6 cautions us to turn away from them and toward those that will endure. It’s the toward that we should keep our eyes on; that’s the invitation, not to more rules, morals, or to-do lists, but into a  life journey that may be more difficult, but also promises to be more relational and meaningful — the kind of life full of gifts that moths and rust cannot touch.

As we enter into the season of Lent, we’ll have the chance to follow Jesus as he chooses just that type of journey.  And in forty days, just as the path begins to feel hopeless, the resurrection will change everything — life from death. We’ll rejoice that our Creator God knows and holds all the stories, all the legacies, and all the treasures of all who have gone before us — including those in graves marked “Unknown.”

Dwelling Among Us

When your descendants remember your life, what are the treasures you will want them to identify with you? Make a list.

Are there achievements, goals, or “treasures” that are consuming you? Ask those closest to you for their observations.

About The Author

Susan Okamoto Lane