Magic Happens

“Mira a la estrella. Solamente hay una estrella.” //“Look at the star. There is only one star.”

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This was the first sentence she said to me. And I had spent two days in her presence. I heard her say “ocho” a few times, soaked in innumerable smiles and observed the brightness in her eyes, but nothing more than a word was uttered before our last night in La Coroza. She tapped me on the shoulder during our church service, whispered that sentence to me, and my eyes filled with tears.

Her name is Isis. Isis means magic and that’s just what she is.

There’s a CS Lewis quote that goes, “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for us to see.”

I truly believe that I witnessed a miracle that night.

I went to Christmas Eve service two years ago after working the holiday at the hospital and it was the first time I was ever alone on Christmas. It was hard not to feel isolated in a pew by myself, on a night when everyone was surrounded by their families.

The priest had the children sit in front of church and answer questions. One of the questions was, “Why was Jesus brought to us?”

One child stood up pretty immediately and said, “So that no one will ever feel alone. “

I immediately felt comforted and no longer alone in that pew. The child’s words were simultaneously innocent and wise; a true retelling of the same story that is written across the world in letters too large for us to see.

It is a story that shows us we are loved unconditionally; a story that says we are never alone.

Isis is living with Down Syndrome in an extremely impoverished village in Honduras. When I was down there in February, I watched in admiration as Isis walked into every room, sat herself down and observed the commotion surrounding her for hours during the eye clinic. Isis felt welcomed because Humanity and Hope pours unconditional love into the hearts of the people they work with in La Coroza, and a heart filled with unconditional love is an open, daring one.

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Isis after bravely completing her eye exam with one of H&H’s volunteer optometrists

At the end of the Christmas Eve service, everyone in the room held a candle and sang “Silent Night.” I was brought to tears because the room was filled with so much light; it moved me to be in its presence. The brightness reminded me of the famous Star of Bethlehem that is spoken about so much during the Christmas season. A single star whose light led the way to a new beginning, a new hope, and a story of pure, unconditional love.

“Mira a la estrella. Solamente hay una estrella.” //“Look at the star. There is only one star.”

And what about “ocho”? The only other word I heard Isis utter. Eight is actually a powerful number in the Bible. According to many, the number eight in the Bible signifies resurrection and regeneration. It is the number of a new beginning. Since it comes after seven, which itself signifies an end to something, eight is associated with the beginning of a new era or that of a new order.

Miracles are the retelling of one story. One star. One love. And that one story is so powerful it is capable of creating new beginnings from seemingly hopeless circumstances.

Isis is magic.

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The moment I shared with Isis during the evening service brought me closer to my faith and my personal beliefs, but I don’t think this story is just for me to hold onto. It’s so much bigger than me. I truly believe it’s a story for everyone. No matter what your faith or your station in life, “many think differently, feel differently, seeking God or meeting God in different ways” but one thing we can all agree on is that the world’s story is ultimately meant to be read as a story of love.

“Each affects the other, and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.”

Humanity and Hope is an organization that focuses on loving people and listening to their stories. Period. That’s where the magic comes from.

Riley Fuller, the organization’s president and co-founder says it like this, “That’s why people, because we believe that magic can happen inside people. Magic can’t happen inside projects. Magic can’t happen inside inanimate objects. Love. Loving people is our end goal, and it’s just difficult to describe why unless you’ve seen the results.”

If you are in need of soaking up some hope right now or have some of your own to share, please watch and share this video below and consider donating or coming on a trip with Humanity and Hope. There’s magic out there–just look at the number the little girl is holding up 6 seconds into the video.. 😉

H&H-Loving People

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.

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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.

Buzzing

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.

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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:

http://m.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/07/a-land-without-guns-how-japan-has-virtually-eliminated-shooting-deaths/260189/

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.

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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.

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Weave Got the Dreamer’s Disease

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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:

http://thewordjourney.weebly.com/

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!