Early in 1984,True Father made changes in the leadership roles; all witnessing came underneath Korean leaders (except Rev S.) while Japanese leaders became solely responsible for business missions. The Japanese Video Center was closed; all of the members from there were sent to Japanese-run businesses.
I was distressed that I would not be witnessing which I wanted to do more than anything else. Mr. H tried to console me. He said that the Japanese restaurants were set up as a way to free blessed families from the burden of financial responsibilities in order to witness. If we could create a good pattern here in NY, then restaurants could be opened all across America. I was being asked to sacrifice to support blessed families nation-wide. It was such a serious time, I did not want to insist on my own way. I decided that Heavenly Father knew I wanted to be on the frontline helping True Parents; since I was sent to the restaurant, then this must be the front line.
At that time, most restaurant employees lived in the New Yorker Hotel. The first week of my new mission, I was given a day off. I could wash clothes or buy necessities, but it was so difficult to go back to work the next day that I asked my manager if I could just work seven days. I had worked seven days while on MFT and never missed one day from illness, so he gave me permission.
Our restaurant had been closed for a good scrubbing, but little money if any was allotted to be invested in this ’weak horse’. In this new department, I was surrounded by Japanese members and Japanese language. It was difficult sitting through morning service and various meetings while understanding nothing. But I knew all non-English speaking members must feel the same way here in the US, so I figured that I could develop more empathy with their situation. In our meeting room, there was a large wall chart with all of our restaurants listed, along with their daily results. I noticed that one was always on top.
At that time, there were at least ten church-owned Japanese restaurants in NY. One, Aki Hana, had been given an award for interior design and was featured in a prestigious magazine. Beautiful and elegant with a large koi aquarium, this was our top restaurant. Only the prettiest and most demure waitresses could work at this ‘prize child’ of the department, which always made the highest result, more than three times what the bottom location, Kiiroi Hana, brought in.
Kiiroi Hana was my destination, our smallest and most recently acquired restaurant, located directly across the street from another non-church-owned Japanese restaurant and only a block from a popular Japanese-American franchise. The prospects were not good for us to do well. Some of my co-workers were relieved that they were placed where they were not under pressure to bring results, either witnessing or financial.
I promptly declared that our goal should be to beat Aki Hana. No one took me seriously. Even the manager told me that business is not the same as MFT. I did not say anything else; no one would listen, but if I had it would have been: “Indemnity is indemnity no matter where you are”. It was 1984- so many members wished that they could have given their life if it would have altered the events of that year. ..to save Heung Jin Nim; to prevent True Father’s imprisonment. It was impossible for me to relax.
True Father gave the department four or five points to achieve success in the restaurant business: service, cleanliness, quality, efficiency...I knew that I could not control the quality of the food, but I could give the best service possible, keep the restaurant clean, and help set up/organize the restaurant so as to provide the most efficiency. I never thought of myself as a mere waitress, but more of a manager-in-training to help reproduce successful restaurants across America. True Father’s points became my focus and “Beat Aki Hana” became my internal mantra.
I was so intense that the other members at the restaurant did not feel comfortable around me. I never made small talk; I was always looking for ways to accomplish True Father’s directives. One day the manager, Mr. N, took me aside and said that every worker in the restaurant had asked him to fire me. I was surprised. I was so focused that I did not realize their unanimous aggravation toward me. Also everyone else was Japanese; they spoke Japanese. I understood very little of the conversations around me. Being there was like being in Japan. Unfamiliar with Japanese culture, there were countless times when I made mistakes. Sometimes, I felt like everything I did was wrong. Luckily, the manager was married/blessed to an American sister who had been on MFT. Therefore, he said, he could understand me better than other members could. He decided to keep me in spite of my unpopularity. One older, well-respected sister insisted that he either fire me or she would quit; he allowed her to leave.
There are a lot of things that are okay in America, but disliked or taboo in other cultures: whistling while cleaning; pointing at something with your foot (when your arms are full); eating soup out of a bowl designed for salad or visa versa; piling ice cream high for favorite customers; the list goes and on.
When business was slow, I would don a sushi man’s apron (with permission from the manager, of course) and go down to the basement where supplies were stacked in a very haphazard manner. It was also extremely dirty there as we had inherited years worth of mess - bugs and mice included - from the previous owner. Eventually, I created a clean, well-organized stockroom with clear signage and an up-to-date inventory.
I may have been respected and appreciated by American members for taking initiative and being responsible, but to my brothers and sisters from another culture, I was viewed as unprincipled, leaving my proper position and behaving very Cain-like. In retrospect, I have wondered why they never considered my motivation. Luckily, the manager must have known.
I sometimes suggested things to the manager; he usually agreed with me. If he disagreed, then he would explain why it wasn’t a good idea which I found very kind of him to do. Once I suggested that we buy dishes for True Parents in case they visited. He said that was very unlikely; however, after three months had passed, Mr. N asked if I would like to go with him to buy some special napkins and glasses for that purpose.
Our restaurant had two shifts: lunch and dinner. Before, in-between and after, there was cleaning and preparation for the next shift; washing and filling soy sauce containers; wiping down tables; washing and rolling face cloths by hand, etc. After lunch clean-up we had an hour break. After the dinner clean-up, we ate, usually around 11 PM, sometimes midnight. Then we walked a block and hailed a cab to our residence not too far away.
Every day after lunch I asked how much we made. Then I knew what our goal was for dinner in order to beat Aki Hana. Every evening I asked how much we made for the day. I was so single- minded and inflexible about beating Aki Hana that it irritated many people, but I was oblivious to those particular complaints, which aggravated some of the staff even more.
One day I saw a mouse run across the tiled floor in the sushi men’s area. Just about every inch of our restaurant was visible- from the front window to the back wall. If a customer had seen the mouse and said anything, everyone would have known about it in an instant. I decided that I HAD to mop the floor back there. Previously the sushi men had adamantly stopped me from cleaning there, insisting that their space was sacred: only sushi men were allowed behind the sushi counter. So I had asked them to mop the tile, but they laughed at that joke.
Soon after seeing the mouse, I arranged with the manager to stay late one night while professional cleaners came to wash the carpet. I presented my case: I was the most logical choice to stay after work because I could give clear directions to the carpet cleaners in English. A male employee stayed behind as well; he slept while the carpet cleaners worked. I seized this orchestrated opportunity and mopped behind the sushi counter as thoroughly as I could. The next morning the sushi men came in early, as usual. I must have moved a pot or trashcan a micrometer back there, because somehow they discovered my ‘sin’. They began cursing loudly (luckily for me in Japanese). Then they called the manager and, at the top of their voices, told him what a horrible, wretched person I was and how I made their life hell on earth.
Rush hour lunchtime, downtown NY, right around the corner from Trump Tower, was intense. We were ‘packed to the gills’ with customers and not enough waitresses. One afternoon, one of my tables was an American couple, both were large people and they ordered the largest platters we had: Sashimi Deluxe and Sushi Deluxe. The two plates barely fit the small table; they asked me if I couldn’t put all the food on one dish. The logic of their request was obvious. Nevertheless, I was already wary of the sushi chefs who could see my every move. If they saw me tampering with their artwork, they would surely be offended. So I took the two plates back to the counter and asked , “On- ni- gosh- i -mas, [a Japanese phrase that is mandatory to address the sushi men and which expresses respect], would you please put this all on one plate?” Then I dashed off to take care of a dozen more tables which needed two courses before their entree: miso soup, then salad. I returned to the counter; the plates were untouched. I repeated my request. The sushi man asked, seethingly, “Why didn’t you ask before?” “I didn’t know; the customers just asked me”, I replied, then again ran off to take care of my tables, avoiding the stares of the couple in question. Eventually I had to ask the manager to intercede in this deadlock. A heated conversation-in Japanese- ensued. The manager made a brand new platter with both entrees.
That night an emergency meeting was held after work (midnight!)- mandatory for all staff. The issue: TODAY, a lowly, insignificant waitress did not treat the sushi men (noble artisans who spend years perfecting their art) with proper respect, therefore expensive dishes were wasted. (The sushi man threw both dishes into the trash!) The manager concluded that this was the fault of the waitress.
I wanted to laugh and walk out of the meeting, but my curiosity held me there. I had worked with Japanese leaders and members for almost 10 years; I had never experienced such a clash of culture. How could we think so differently about the same incident? Had it been a mere 50 years earlier, my head might have been swiftly separated from my body for this offence...with a ‘noble’ samurai sword. I went to bed that night with a sense of appreciation and awe that we lived in the 21st century- and marveling that I was still alive.
(I did not blame the manager for his stance; he was protecting those with the most to lose- their pride.)
The Japanese restaurant across the street closed permanently. Little by little our daily result increased. The manager was surprised and happy; the staff became stimulated as well. Inevitably, our workload increased. One day a customer told me that a magazine had listed us as one of the top ten restaurants in NY city! Our competition, Aki Hana, wasn’t even on the list! With this publicity, even more people came.
Let me add here that our manager was such an excellent sushi man that True Father had requested his dishes a few times before he left for Danbury. Mr N. would drive up to Irvington-upstate New York- to deliver them!
Each lunch people would pour in, line up along the walls, and eventually outside the door, waiting to be seated. I suggested to the manager that we needed a hostess to notify the customers of the estimated wait time. He agreed and asked me to do that; the others thought I was trying to get out of work and promote myself. (!) Actually it was more work because I was waiting on the tables as well.
Dinnertime we were also packed- every table and the sushi counter. Occasionally famous people came to eat- Anthony Quin, Mary from Peter, Paul and Mary, and others.
.Although the workload had more than tripled since we first opened Kiiroi Hana, the number of employees remained the same. (Actually minus one- the sister who asked to leave because of me.) Before the dinner shift, another waitress, KH, and I braced ourselves and asked each other, “Are you ready for WWIII?” Once those doors opened there was barely a minute to breathe until they closed again for the night.
Although I had worked hard on MFT, I felt that working at Kiiroi Hana was even more difficult. In this very small restaurant, every place, even the kitchen, was visible from front to back. There was only one small bathroom for customers and staff to share.
Thus there was nowhere that I could stop and take a break. I was daily confronted by co-workers who often aggressively criticized me and NY customers who could be demanding and impatient.
On MFT I worked outdoors everyday. I also usually worked on my own, going door-to-door, shop-to-shop or bar-to-bar. If I was having difficulty, I could stop and pray, taking as long as I needed until I broke through in prayer. Here there was nowhere to hide, pray, take a moment to cry, or listen to the birds...except my hour break after lunch.
The first few weeks I used my break to teach my spiritual son from the video center. The manager had brought a monitor and video machine into the restaurant for me to use. The young man would come by and watch lectures. Then it was decided by the powers-that-be that he was not really my spiritual son, but someone else’s, and he was whisked away. After that I would go to a large church nearby, sit in a pew, pray and cry...from frustration, confusion, and sheer exhaustion.
During the intense hours I was on duty there was no escape from my public position. It was a great opportunity to grow. Like the proverbial snake shedding its skin in that tight, tight space; this was a great place to get rid of my fallen nature.
My spiritual experience
About four months had passed. One night, I was so tired that I could barely think straight. After the doors were shut and cleaning was finally finished, dinner was served. Although I was hungry, I could not convince my arm to lift my hand to my mouth. It is a strange thing, knowing that the mind is giving direction and the body fails to obey as though it has a will of its own. I looked at the fork, but it was no use; my arm would not move. My body seemed strangely distant. If the fork had lifted by itself, I’m not sure my mouth would have cooperated either. Then I noticed that my mind was not doing a very convincing job of directing -it seemed to be dissolving into a kind of mush. People asked if I was alright; I must have nodded, dazed.
I sat there, wondering how my legs would move to take me from the chair, through the door and the one block-which-seemed-like- a-mile, but somehow it happened, one leg in front of the other, almost sleep walking. I went up the elevator to the 26th floor. There was a public prayer room near my bedroom that I visited most nights as we all did. My intention was to make a perfunctory prayer: “Thank you, Heavenly Father. Good night.” I didn’t think I was capable of anything more. However, when I bowed down to say goodnight, an amazing thing happened.
For one miraculous instant, thinner than the blink of an eye, True Father’s heart brushed against mine.
It was as though True Father was rushing by and the spiritual law of correlative base like a magnet drew our hearts into one intersection of time and space for a nanosecond.
Or as if True Father’s love was responding to one girl striving to be a good daughter.
...whatever the explanation.
True Father’s heart touched my heart. In the briefest of encounters, I felt the reality that True Father experiences utter exhaustion every day. The enormity of that realization was staggering and I wept uncontrollably.
True Father willingly invests himself, depleting every ounce of his energy to live for God and others- every day- 365 days a year. True Father consciously pushes himself that hard- out of the purest of motivations: absolute, unconditional love for God and absolute love for others.
It is amazing how one moment can change so much. The difficulty of the past four months disappeared like chaff in the wind. The tears I shed so often; the pain of being repeatedly misunderstood, despised; the work that had felt overwhelming- all this melted away completely. All that was left was an eternal gift, a treasure beyond gold and diamonds. My heart touched True Father’s. My heart had touched True Father’s heart. True Father spoke to me without words, beyond words.
I don’t know how long I knelt in that holy place, weeping, tears pouring forth as though a huge dam had broken. I finally got up and went to bed. The next day our humble restaurant beat Aki Hana.
After months of challenging, we finally did it! The staff of the other restaurants were all dumbfounded. They hadn’t even noticed our result sneaking up bit by bit. What most members thought couldn’t be done, we accomplished. The atmosphere in Kiroii Hana was electric with celebration. They expected me to be gloating “I told you so”. But after last night, I had no words. I smiled to show camaraderie, but my happiness was tempered by my new reality: True Father’s daily investment. This was a vast cosmic reality compared to our small Kiroii Hana reality. How could I compare this with True Father’s investment - True Father who was at that very moment in a cell in Danbury prison? And now that I knew this undeniable truth, what did this mean as I moved forward? All of these things were on my heart, but I could not share them with anyone.
To purchase one eternal second of heart-touch with True Father, what is it worth? Four months of hard labor? A hundred years? A million? ….
Not long after that I was ‘donated’ to the witnessing department. True Mother and some of the True Children came to eat at Kiiro Hana a few times after I left.