Through torn paper window
The Milky Way.
Kobayashi Issa, translated by Nanao Sakaki
Our friend, Issa Abraham Sakaki Merrill, was born on August 8, 1980 and was always a part of the Albuquerque Monthly Meeting. The son of Corrales, NM poet and author Carol Merrill and of Japanese poet, Nanao Sakaki, Issa was named for the 18th Century poet Kobayashi Issa. Growing up, he lived in Albuquerque and Taos NM and for one year was an unofficial “baby ambassador” to China while his mother taught English in Qu Fu, Shandong, China. As a child he attended First Day School with Albuquerque Friends Meeting. His mother remembers that for a while they attended another group, but he asked to return to the Quakers—telling her that was where he belonged. As a young teen he joined other meeting youth picking pumpkins on Blue Moon Farm to take to the Storehouse, for hikes in the mountains and on an expedition to cut Christmas trees.
Stricken in his teens by Batten’s Disease, a progressive neurological disorder, Issa nevertheless was active in his high school and founded the Cibola High School Student Citizens’ Organization (CHSSCO) to provide a forum for student and administration constructive problem solving. He was also an enthusiastic advocate and organizer for Albuquerque Sister Cities projects, raising funds and locating host families for teenagers from five sister cities to visit Albuquerque. Even as a teen, Issa was strongly motivated by the idea that we needed to make a lot of friends around the world in order to build a peaceful future.
Issa pursued his interests by studying political science at the University of New Mexico. Though he was unable to continue past his junior year due to vision and mobility problems, he maintained an avid interest in politics. He traveled to Washington with a local radio personality and advocate in order to lobby for legislation related to meeting the needs of blind people. A proud possession was a letter from then-Congressman Bill Richardson saying that Issa’s visit had moved him to support genetic research. After extensive work in the Bill Richardson campaign for New Mexico governor, Issa was proud to say he was on a “first name basis with the governor.”
Throughout his life, those who came in contact with Issa noted his cheerful and outgoing personality, his lively interest in people and political issues, and his sense of humor. A college room-mate and old friend said that from childhood, “he was always one of the funniest and brightest people in the room.” As a college student living in a dorm, he found that a number of students stopped by to share troubles with him, appreciative of his caring and insightful listening—along with the physical difficulties he was also managing.
As his abilities deteriorated, Issa faced his ordeals with laughter and continued enthusiasm for progressive causes. As his room-mate remembered, “I hated seeing him after he had a seizure, but Issa always took everything with such good cheer and was rarely p o’d about his situation. His approach to life is an inspiration to anyone.” Issa also loved playing the didgeridoo, the Dave Matthews Band, dogs, fishing, wildlife rescue, the St. Louis Cardinals, poetry and the NM Museum of Natural History and Science. Volunteering as a docent at the museum, he was instrumental in designing accessibility features for their “hands-on” experience room. For the last five years Issa was a resident at an ARCA home for the disabled. He was a vital member of this loving community, and his death was marked with sorrow and his life with gratitude by the other residents and the ARCA staff. When he was frustrated or, rarely, difficult due to his situation, he usually was still able to respond to humor expressed by caregivers, friends, and family.
In the last months of his life Issa continued to show interest in music, news stories, voting, visiting friends, and jokes. Those who were with him connected with the intellect and spark that continued to be present. He communicated with a finger point and a smile or appreciative laugh. In his last few days, Issa had friends and family visit, read poetry aloud, worship in silence, and speak their love; he had staff sit with him, hold his hand, and stroke his hair; he had a guitarist/singer and a harpist share their music with him. He slipped into a coma in the evening and had a peaceful final unbinding at sunrise on February 23. We are blessed to have had such a great spirit with us as a teacher and a Friend.
Issa’s life and beliefs will be commemorated through a scholarship at the University of New Mexico for students of political science and/or peace studies. He knew about this and was pleased that through the creation of the scholarship, two university departments would reach a new level of collaboration, along with providing opportunities for students.