A Cup of Tea

At home I sometimes feel I have to remind myself to be aware of my surroundings and appreciate the present moment for all its magnitude. After all the smallest moments and the most seemingly unattainable details are what remain in our minds the longest.

I visited many temples and shrines in Japan. At one very famous temple in Kyoto there is a winding path of torii gates that travels high up into the woods. There are many steps and large rocks along the path. Our tour guide explained to us that this is very common in temples and shrines. These obstacles are placed there to remind the traveler to constantly be aware of their surroundings. It is something that is held in the core of their beliefs.


Maybe this is why I felt differently about the way I experienced Japan-because it is engrained in its spirit. Either way, I never found a need to remind myself to look around and take things in. It just seeped into me–slowly, yet all at once. I felt a calmness brush over me the second I stepped into this country and with every new road travelled and smile shared this calmness grew along with an instant appreciation and sense of immense humility and gratitude for each new thing that became part of my being.

Before coming to Japan I made the unfortunate discovery that green tea is a migraine trigger for me. I was really disappointed I wasn’t going to be able to partake in drinking something that was so customary in this country.

But now I realize that Japan itself is my green tea. And I am the water that seeped in all its goodness. Even though I wasn’t able to consume any throughout my trip, it is now swimming through my veins. This way I can keep it forever.

The comfort of a cup of tea-with me for life.


One afternoon in one of the hospitals we visited in Tokyo the roles reversed during playtime. I became the patient and a group of little girls crowded around me as I lay still on the ground waiting for my “treatment.”

They worked like busy little bees and buzzed around me saying things I couldn’t understand. I could see their minds working: weaving their past experiences into their play. I was handed little toys that I was made to swallow like medicine, fed specifically chosen meals, and had my body pulled in different directions methodically. The girls never tired of this game. They went on like this for over thirty minutes, constantly moving and creating a whirlwind around my still body. Most of the time I had no idea what was going on. It was hard work trying to figure out what they wanted me to do. My one comfort was when the smallest child handed me her doll “Popo-Ja” to hold onto and patted me on the head with a smile.

That day I got to experience what it’s really like for these children in the hospital.

Caught in a bee hive. What’s everyone doing? What’s everyone saying? I don’t understand what you want from me. I’m so confused. Please don’t sting me. When will the buzzing stop?

I need my Popo-Ja.

Turn the Heat Down

While talking to one of the nurses one day about coming to visit the US her first response was,”But doesn’t everyone in America have guns.”

This was a little astounding for us to hear. What does this say about our country if that is our reputation? It’s ironic because just earlier that day we had commented to each other about how realistic the kids’ squirt guns were and how children at hospitals in the US aren’t even allowed to pretend to have finger guns, let alone play fight with plastic ones.


So, what does this say? I get it and I don’t. We think that by eliminating violence in our children’s play it will prevent them from growing up to use guns in an abusive way. But why be so strict with rules on children’s play and not when it comes to adults’ access to actual guns?

Am I biased just because I’m in this environment right now? The Japanese culture is full of such peaceful people. Everyone we’ve stopped to asked for directions has helped us, interactions are full of bowing and respect, and even the elevators say thank you! We’ve witnessed five cops gather around to give a parking ticket because that’s the most action they get—and we are in the bustling center of Tokyo!

In the US we keep saying things about needing to change. But when is that going to happen? It is now clear to me that a peaceful nation is possible, but what does it take?

Is our violence strewn from our differences? That is always what has caused conflict in the past—differences in culture, opinion, mindset, etc. America is a mix of all those things. But how can we be the UNITED states of America if over all these years we still haven’t found a way to live peacefully together while accepting all the differences that make our culture so rich? It’s hard to wrap your mind around a concept like this.

How does one remain a melting pot without letting the fire get too hot?

Here’s an interesting article that speaks to this topic:


You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

I hope someday you will join us, and the world will live as one.

Whistle While You Work

Whisper is the name of a character in a popular children’s cartoon here. I have a sticker of Whisper on my name tag and the kids always point to him in delight when they see it. That picture helps me communicate with them. If I know Whisper, I must be fun.

Whisper sticker

It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you first transgress a language barrier with a child. I’ve had many such experiences here. One that stands out was with a child who would not have been able to speak with me even if we both spoke the same language. He had severe cerebral palsy, was nonverbal and was in a wheelchair with limited mobility. We had taken him out of his chair earlier in the day and brought him into a sensory room with black lights and music–a form of therapy that is often used with patients who could benefit from some sensory stimulation.

snooze room

While in there I laid down on the floor next to him and noticed his connection to the music that was playing in the background. Any upbeat music that involved high-pitched noises such as Hi-Ho or other cheery Disney songs always got him so excited.

So later on in the day I sat next to him and started to whistle. I’m not the best whistler but right away I got a response. He loved it. I will never forget the smile on his face or the happy noises he was making. That was a great moment for me.

Whether through a Whisper or a whistle, there are always ways to build connections with children.

Feels Like Home to Me

After the first day at the rehabilitation center I was left with an overwhelming feeling of homeyness. When children must stay at the hospital for extended periods of time it’s important that they feel a sense of comfort in their setting. Our first site provided the children with this in a way that I cannot even describe…but will try.

The hallways are lined with paintings made by the children and handmade lanterns are hung across the ceilings. The wheelchairs the kids use are lined with different colored cushions and boxes are attached to the foot pieces so they have more of a base to stretch their feet out on. Fabric belts like those you would find on a robe are what hold the children into their seats. During lunchtime all of the kids gather in the communal room to eat lunch together as if they are family members sitting around a dinner table. Everything feels organic. Nothing seems untouchable, breakable, or off limits. Kids are allowed to freely wheel themselves throughout the facility and they take full advantage by engaging in wheelchair races at every chance they get.

We were apologized to multiple times about how old the facility was and how we may like the larger children’s hospital better because they have more updated equipment and a newer facility but that’s what I liked and respected about this place. If it were like the type of facility I’m used to working in–very sterile, plastic, modern—then the children may not open up and build familial connections the same way they do here. I like the old walls and the mixed pillows and the cardboard boxes. I like the homemade toys and the cozy rooms. It just works.

And to end the day by having doctors and nurses come in after a squirt gun fight outside with the kids, soaking wet, and watching them blow dry themselves off so that they are able to finish their shift-that is what this place is all about. It feels like home to me. And when you have that, who needs fancy equipment and the latest toys?

The smiles on the children’s faces tell me all I need to know.


Weave Got the Dreamer’s Disease


It has been quite the year and I’ve been jumping in and out of the stories of so many amazing people that it honestly doesn’t feel like an entire year has passed since I’ve written. But, it has! I’m excited to share some of the lessons I’ve learned while I’ve been out there in the world doing stuff.

The next few posts were written last summer in Japan on a temporary blog created to chronicle the trip with my co-traveler, Rachel. We have since gone on to graduate together from our Master’s program and become Certified Child Life Specialists, accomplishments we are extremely excited about because they bring us further into a career we are so passionate about. Rachel just recently moved to Israel where she will be working with an organization that provides life-saving heart surgeries to children in need across the globe. Amazing stuff! You can follow her adventures here:


As for me, I’ve been adding many pages to my story, but want to start with a Japan recap since that is really where we left off…

Here was the description for our travel blog:

“This blog follows two dreamers taking the trip of a lifetime around Japan. We are graduate students studying to become child life specialists in the United States. On this trip we will work with hospitalized children while learning from HPS (Hospital Play Specialists) in hospitals and rehabilitation centers in Tokyo and Osaka. We will also be taking a training course in a Japanese art form called SAORI which we hope to eventually weave into our practice as child life specialists in the US.

As child life specialists it will be our job in the hospital to take the “dis” out of words like disability and disease. Because really they are just words. And yet this hold such stigma in our society. We want to take away the “dis” so children in hospitals are left with a sense of (dis)ease and more importantly pride in their (dis)ability.

Wake up kids.

We’ve Got the Dreamer’s Disease.

Don’t give up.

You’ve got a reason to live.”

More Japan posts to follow!

Just Because You Can’t See it, Doesn’t Mean It’s Not There

Whenever I see the photo of the New York City skyline with the two lights stretching upwards to represent the twin towers I am filled with a mix of emotions. It ignites pride in me to see that after thirteen years this city and this country still see the significance of 9/11 and illuminate the skies as a tribute to those who were lost and their loving family members who have felt this void in their own skylines since that tragic day. That photo also makes me question, “Without those two lights, would we still know what’s there?” Undoubtedly the answer is yes.

twin tower lights

Of course one reason is that many of us have the NYC skyline engrained in our memories with those two twin towers standing tall against the horizon. So since we are so used to that image, our brains automatically build them back in that space where there is now a void.

But furthermore I think that even if we didn’t have these imprinted memories of what used to be, and even if NYC decided against shining those two bright lights into the sky, we would still know what’s there.

As human beings we have often difficulty believing in things that we cannot see with our eyes. To us, this is often what makes things real. But what about things like love and compassion? Can you see those things? No. You can’t pick up a piece of compassion off the floor and hand it over to a friend. You can’t grab a slice of love. But does this mean those two things don’t exist in our world? I know this is not true.

abraham lincoln believe in unseen

A classmate and I recently went on a trip to Japan and worked in a few children’s hospitals. While there we had the opportunity to observe the true power of compassion. And on this significant day I want to share a story from Japan with you to show you that just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

We were brought to the floor where the most severely handicapped children lived and visited the room of a little girl who was two years old and had been hospitalized her entire life. She had very limited mobility, the most of which was being able to move her right eye from side to side and one of her thumbs. Sadly in the past people may have written her off as not needing interventions from people like hospital play specialists because of the possibility of not being able to see if their work was doing anything significant to help the child (ie. “You’re wasting your time in there. How is reading a book to her going to help anyway? It’s not like she can understand you. We’ve never even seen her smile.”) We know this not to be true and that human touch and connection is necessary for the well-being of all children, regardless of their ability to communicate or show emotion. But of course, it’s still nice to know that what you’re doing helps.

The HPSs (hospital play specialists) told us that we may not be able to go in and see her because they had been informed by the medical staff that she wasn’t doing very well that day and her heart rate was very high. We ended up being able to enter and observed the HPS in wonder as just the mere sound of her voice made the girl’s heart rate drop immediately. As time went on and we stood in that room, watching the specialist as she read a book about fireworks to her and seeing the kindness in her eyes as she sang her songs, we saw the girl’s heart rate drop from 170 bpm to below 100 bpm in less than ten minutes. I got shivers.

heart rate

The words in the book were not what helped lower her heart rate, it was Izumi’s presence that did this. She poured her true self into this little one’s heart and that compassion helped her heal. We did not physically see the compassion travelling through the room, but we felt it, and we knew without a doubt that it was there. To be able to witness the power of compassion was an experience that I will never forget. It left us with tears in our eyes knowing that our work has meaning, it has worth, and most importantly, it transforms the suffering of children.

leo busc quote

Just because we couldn’t see that girl smile, doesn’t mean her smile wasn’t there.

So I will leave you with this: If tomorrow NYC went through a power outage and those 88 bulbs were unable to shine in place of the twin towers, would their light still ignite the sky?

9/11. Never Forget: To Leave a Light On.