About four years ago, I embarked on a two-week educator’s tour of Japan. It was an amazing experience. I was fortunate to be able to bring my eighteen year old son who would be heading off to college on this trip with me. I treasure those moments that we experienced together.
Each day in Japan was filled with wonder . Each day provided an opportunity to learn and grow. The trip left an indelible imprint upon my soul. It was special in so many ways.
I hope to someday have the opportunity to experience Japan again.
The experiences were not necessarily all happy ones. As I stated, each day provided opportunities to learn, to think, and to consider the world and history in different ways.
One of the difficult days was July 4, 2012, when we visited Hiroshima. At Hiroshima we took part in a lecture from a survivor from the bombing in 1945. We toured the Peace Park. We also toured the museum.
The exhibits and the lecture were haunting. They brought life and reality to an important historical event. They allowed for reflection.
I was amazed that there was little to no anti-American sentiment in any of these venues. More, it was all about peace.
I remember feeling that day that I wished there was more love and understanding in the world…
I tried to run each morning on the trip. It was on July 5, the day after we experienced Hiroshima together during an early morning run, that I had a singular experience that has never left me.
I believe that taking the time to experience new places by foot allows people to better understand what is around them. It’s good to get away from the tour bus and the scheduled sights and to just see what you can learn on your own.
I did a lot of running in Japan. I saw a great deal because I ventured out. I am glad I did.
On that July 5 morning, I was enjoying a long run through Hiroshima with a member of our tour group. After about 40-minutes, my running partner turned to go back to the hotel. I continued running. I needed to experience the Hiroshima Peace Park one more time – this time running in solitude with just my thoughts and feelings. There was a light mist that became a drizzle that added to the emotional impact of the run.
I was moved to pray at various times along my run.
I then ran around the A-Bomb Dome deep in my thoughts contemplating this experience, world history, war, and also love and redemption and hope…
As I returned to the front of the park, on my way back to our hotel, there was a school of junior high school students standing on some steps the near the eternal flame.
They were singing.
By now it was raining a bit harder. The smart thing to do would have been to rush back to the hotel, but I was compelled to stay.
It was beautiful. As they stood, in the rain, their melodious voices filled the air with a soft yet powerful sound. I was transfixed just enjoying the moment, the beauty, contemplating all that took place on that very spot…
Here were these Japanese children singing in the early hours not for anyone, but for everyone.
The park was mainly empty. It was early. It was raining… I stayed to listen. I may have been the only one.
A woman approached and then talked to me, she was either a teacher from the school or a parent of one of the singing children. She didn’t speak much English, and I don’t speak Japanese, but we were able to communicate. She explained that these were students from Tokyo.
I asked, “Are they singing about peace?”
She said, “Yes.”
As their song ended they turned to the monument and eternal flame, bowed, and said some words. The woman then asked me to talk to the students. I initially thought of declining, but I knew that I should say something to them. I didn’t know what to say…
We slowly walked toward the students, the woman asked for their attention, and then she turned to me. Standing, wet, in my running shorts and shirt, I must have made a peculiar sight. The students afforded me more respect than I deserved. Eyes upon me, they waited for my word.
As best as I can recall, I said the following,
“Ohayou Gozaimasu.” (I learned a little Japanese for the trip. This was the formal way to give a morning greeting.)
The students replied, smiling. (It may have been that my Japanese wasn’t so good.)
“I am from America.” (They all laughed, after all, this was pretty obvious.)
“I am from a group of teachers and principals. We are touring Japanese schools. We will visit a junior high school in Hiroshima today. We visited schools in Toyko and will see Kyoto and Toyama also. Thank you for your singing today. It was beautiful. You warmed my heart and touched my soul. Thank you so very much.”
This was but a small moment in life, a few short minutes. I talked for only 30 seconds, if that, but felt as if I was talking to the world.
I do not know if the students understood my words, but they did understand when I touched my heart and bowed toward them. They understood my smile. They understood that we are all people, together.
I then waved to them. They waved back, saying “Goodbye” and “Thank you.”
I turned and began my solitary run back to the hotel.
If life is made up of small moments that mean everything, this was one of those moments.
I may not have made any sense to the children listening to me, but they made a difference to me.
I’ll never forget them or their sweet music.