Waiting for Tragedy

January has come and gone with a quickness that most months do. Some days go slow, but the weeks go fast and the months disappear without notice.

I’ve spent (the shortest) 6 months of my life in Japan. This being said, 6 more months was not going to be long enough for me to accomplish all that I hope to. I am excited to say, I have 18 months left here in Japan! Someone asked me my new years resolution and I nearly laughed…I don’t exactly believe in NY resolutions. I think everyday is a new beginning. But this year, I want to explore and travel Japan.

I didn’t ride my bike for almost two weeks. When I got back on my bicycle for my ride to work…an 11 minute bike ride took me 20 minutes. By the end of the week I was able to get the ride down to 14 minutes… Lesson: Taking breaks from anything makes you weaker.

 

My sewing obsession has followed me to Japan. I have a newfound love for beads now too. My bead collection is bigger than it was when I was a child, making 100  bead long string necklaces…IMG_3145

 

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Some of my favorite things that have happened recently: I got some amazing Christmas cards from friends in the USA. I’ve been asking students questions about things I don’t understand in Japan. The answers I get are PERFECT.

Q: I don’t understand why nobody smiles at me on the train…  A: Using the train is not funny.  [Easy enough, I LOVE that answer.] Also, smiling on the train is an invitation to talk and most people find talking on the train to be torture.

Q: Why do the teachers move rooms, why don’t students? A: Teachers want a perfect body.

Q: I don’t know why students laugh at me… A: We are loving you.  [This was a big misunderstanding. When I felt students were laughing at me, it hurt my feelings…but its more of a conversation opener and students showing affection.]

At my favorite Ramen shop, I am officially a regular. No longer need a menu, my order is known. I’ve always dreamed of being a regular somewhere, preferably not a bar. I’m ecstatic with my new badge of honor there. The people there talk to me quickly in Japanese. I can almost understand what they are saying but they must think I do. We are figured out how to communicate using different languages and I think it is incredible.

IMG_3272 I wanted return to Judo this week. I am looking forward to learning/practicing Judo but the burns on my elbows are just now healed and I’m exhausted, lately. I hope to get back at it, soon.

Today, students played a Japanese card game. It was played by grade level. It took place in the gym and awards were presented after. It was awesome! In the states we do not have anything like this.

Silly things that I LOVE~! My dad always walks behind me and bumps the back of my knee. If he gets me good enough, I nearly fall to the ground. That is also a thing here in Japan!! I laughed when I did it to someone and they had a name for it and told me it was a common joke like move.

I taught friends that if you focus on the other persons elbow you will have the greatest high-five ever. Practiced that as well as the back of knee taps.

5e17225e-4f20-40b7-9be3-9c4282fd3f03I ordered a bookshelf off of Amazon. When I received the bookshelf I could not help but laugh. I had to put it together but all of the instructions were in Japanese. Got the tools out and hammered that baby together! 🙂

I am amazed by the weather right now. It is late January and the beauty of the sun is blinding. When the clouds are not covering the sun it brings enough warmth making 30s and 40 degree weather feel like a hot stove just opened-warming you to the bones.

I’m starting to understand the process of how students move up into the next grade. It is mind-blowing. I’m taken so far back by the amount of work students have to do at such young ages. Maybe it is so shocking because all I knew before was my experience.

In my experience…you go to the school nearest your home. Elementary and then to your middle school and lastly high school. Public education was always free for me. I did have to pay to take the SATS and apply for college…

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Students in Japan may start as young as 6th grade, applying for different schools. Students apply for public schools. Public schools are paid for by families. For example, right now I have helping a student prepare for her interview for the high school she dreams of going to. Each school has limited openings and you must have certain scores on tests and be ranked against the students at your school. Ranking of where you are at is extremely important for students here.

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Students take a test which depends on the high school they want to attend. Students may be a multiple subject test with an oral interview in English and Japanese. This is to see if the school will accept the student into the public school. EVERY child has to do some variation of this process to ensure they go to high school. Student’s tell me they are always studying, but now I understand why. Schools here are also leveled by ability…

 

Pressure exists. As a foreigner I can see it and I can feel it and now I understand it. Students are going through a process similar to college applications, at the young age of 15. These students have to ace interviews that are similar to interviews I had to attempt in order to get a teaching job. I hope throughout my time here I can lessen the pressure for some students and help them acquire the skills they need to feel confident about their future.

 

 

When I look at these students, I see kids. Kids that should be playing hide and go seek, kick the can, riding bikes until dark…but the reality is that these students spend most of their time studying and especially now when the tests/interview exams are around the corner. Where I see children…others see young adults.

What I’ve been appreciating about Japan in addition to what I’ve already mentioned…

Students. Building relationships with students people in the community.

Teachers. I work with a great group of teachers.

The kotatsu I have-a Japanese heating table.

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Sunshine-it is beautiful when the sun is shinning and that has been a lot! I saw someone (in JANUARY) with their top down in a convertible.

Flowers: Still blooming and growing IN WINTER.

Pen Pal letters!! My students here in Japan have gotten their letters back from America. I’m as excited as the kiddos.

Surprise (to me!)

High school entrance

How many words/phrases don’t translate

The green traffic light (go) is called BLUE here. Blue/green use to be interchangeable

Students are teaching me Kanji. COOL!

There are only dirt fields at Japan middle schools. No grass.

Really, no grass anywhere. I feel kind of weird when I see dogs using the street as their toilet. I don’t think my dog would know what to do if it has to use cement as his canvas.

Craft stores here nice. I can’t find rainbow thread though which is strange since rainbows are LOVED here. Fabric is expensive and good quality.

I never hear people sneeze? [Wait I just did hear it…but maybe I don’t notice because no one says bless you or acknowledges it. Since I have written this-I have heard LOTS of sneezed and I also have sneezed more?]

I love the Yamaha motorcycles that I see here. Classic. On the way home I saw one for about $ 1,300 and I’m tempted. If the driving pattern were the same as USA’s I wouldn’t think twice.

School lunch as been delicious.

I HAD THE BEST GYOZA. Gyoza=pot stickers. This time instead of pot sticker shape-it looked like a piece of friend chicken (drum stick). It was the BEST.

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I’m either sweating or freezing at school. Sometimes the heat is on, sometimes all the windows are open. After riding my bike to work though, I’m always sweating…until it dries and I’m then frozen.

When I go to help a student they complete an entire sentence in Japanese and then I say, “Eigo” [eggo] (English) and we laugh. Students speak Japanese naturally and by accident and when I listen then say English-we always laugh. Even if I understand, I want them to try and communicate using English.

Flowers are a big deal here. There are tons of flower shops. We order flowers online in America. I don’t even know where a local flower shop is at home.

I’ve learned that communication is easy. You just have to be willing to try.

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Japan is a pretty interesting place. I love it. I love the people, the culture, the students… I am glad to be here.

Processing…

Only continue if you can do so:

with

Grace and without judgement.

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Current day-Phil and I

 

I think one of the greatest tragedies of the world is when children are forced to grow up. However, positive lessons are rarely taught in positive ways. We grow up when we are ready but now that I’m thinking about it, there is a situation, a time and a place where something happens that forces us to grow up. I feel for the children in the world who go through this at a time when their biggest worry should be how late they can ride their bike or if they get the best smelling scratch and sniff sticker. I remember when I met the harshness of the world. The next 10 years of my life were spent trying to figure out how I could save the people I love. I’m still trying to stomach the fact that I can’t. The next 10 years after that were spent still in the chaos of the storm, reacting, overly cautious, afraid of what each day would bring.

 

When I was 24 years old I was a first year teacher in Arizona. The school year had finished and I was excited as ever to get back to Washington to see my friends and family. My dad and I drove back and had a ball. The summer was starting off great, I was happy, excited, hopeful and ready to have the summer of a lifetime.

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I had been in Spokane for less than 24 hours. I was driving down 29th with my best friend, going by the light on Perry. It was my first night back in town and home for the summer. I felt like I was on top of the world. Laughing with my best friend, heading out to get into mischief… My dad was calling. For the first time in my life I didn’t expect bad news from my dad calling multiple times in a row. I was finally past, waiting for tragedy.  After answering, my world didn’t just stop, my heart and soul did too. I was no longer able to drive. Kate took over driving while I continued breathing heavily, dizzy, knees shaking, more scared than I have ever been (to this day).

Nobody will ever understand what I felt, until they go through it (and I hope that you never do). The opposite is also true…I will never understand what you go through until I experience it. 

 

Waiting for tragedy is an ugly place to be. It is a waste of daylight, loss of sleep, it is an all-consuming place that got the best of me for far too long. I wish I could say I was out of the woods when it comes to expecting/waiting for “the other shoe to drop” but the anxiety and fear of tragedy lingers around.

Maybe I let the fear of tragedy hang around so that I am better prepared for when it strikes. But the truth is, there is no way to be prepared.

 

When we use to go visit my grandparents in Nebraska, I dreaded leaving. I would look out the airplane window during take off and hear tears of my loved ones falling. It wasn’t until I was in middle school or so that I realized why my mom and dad always cried when we left Nebraska. I imagine that they were thinking, “Next time I come here, my mom/dad may not be alive anymore” or “that may be the last time I see my mom/dad”. Several times, they ended up being right. I cannot get past the thought of losing people I love. It breaks me into thousands of tiny pieces. Love is such a deep connection especially between family…that there is no way to ever be ready for what is to come.

You see, my parents protect(ed) me from a lot. I didn’t always know when the world was spinning out of control. My dad informing me of the chaos meant death.

Side note: I know that I’m not a parent…but I believe whole heartedly that it is a parents job to protect their children from dangerous chaos. Let me begin with a disclaimer: My parents protected me. My parents never knowingly or purposely put me in a situation of dangerous chaos. Sure, we found ourselves in some crappy situations but my parents never caused it or forced me to go through it. Thank you for that.  Children who group up in chaos become comfortable with it and begin to look for it. As a teacher, I see this and I understand it. I resist the temptation to feel sorry for children and instead try to encourage and help children find resilience, courage, dignity, empathy and a way to be better. In times like this I am reminded of how incredible children are. Living in chaos requires a person to  begin living in a constant state of fight or flight-stress response. Fight or flight is activated when there is a perceived threat and people must function in this state to remain. Stress response should be short lived. Once the situation has passed your body returns to the normal state. This is not true for all of us. Some of us are living in a constant state of stress response and experience negative side effects(sweaty palms, heart racing, reduced sleep, headaches). Children should be protected from this instead of forced to live a life in which fight or flight is required in order to survive. Chaos can be beautiful or dangerous. The kind of chaos I’m talking about right now is the exposure to dangerous, unpredictable people and situations. This is the stuff I feel passionately about. Nobody should have to navigate through the “hard stuff” alone when these events have been experienced and lived through by many.
I can’t comprehend the pain of some situations because I have not lived them but I sure will listen and love.

My dad was calling me to tell me I needed to come say goodbye, to my brother. I arrived at the hospital a short time after the phone call. I ran inside and back into the emergency room where I saw my brother laying lifeless, clothes cut off, machines keeping him alive.

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Seeing this was: frightening, upsetting, maddening, saddening…more emotions that I can find the words for. My brother had overdosed and was to end his days in that bed. I did not leave the hospital for the next 24 hours maybe even 48, until I was assured that Phil was in a coma and would not die without notice. I stayed at the hospital most nights. I’d seen a number of movies where people would magically come out of a coma because they could feel or hear the love in the room. Now I know, that is only in the movies.  I would hold Phil’s hand, play our favorite songs, talk to him, yell at him, pray for him and just watch him. I thought I would be his reason for waking up. Sometimes, his hand would twitch in mine. I thought he was squeezing my hand. But this lasted days and wasn’t a squeeze of love or an “it’s okay sis, I’m coming”. It had been weeks of a coma, seizing and wonder. Wonder what would happen next, wondering if he would survive, wondering how we would survive…

 

From the ER we moved into ICU. Here, Some light started to come out of the situation. By light, I mean life. Phil had opened his eyes but was unable to talk, eat, walk, or communicate. He was no longer the person we all knew. Not long after, Phil went back into a coma.

It is hard to recount the steps that we took or recall the days that have passed…but as I am typing this out I have that same feeling in my stomach, frog in my throat and unsettling thought of what life is for some people.

 

In the summer to come many tears were shed by the family, nights were spent awake and days were spent at the hospital. There was not much happy in these days but there was a wedding of one of my brothers and a chance for the entire family to be together.  The weeks and months to come were filled with steps forwards and leaps backwards and a mistake made by one that all of us were forced to learn from.

July came quick and I needed to head back to Arizona for my job. This was not an option for me at that time. With my brother was in and out of the ICU, leaving was not an ideal situation for me. I wouldn’t let it be a situation at all and with careful consideration I resigned from my teaching position in Arizona and stayed home where I felt I needed to be.

Phil is a warrior. He always has been. He was not supposed to survive this. I think of my family as an army. We have fought some dark battles [together] and we have won all but not without sustaining injury.

Phil got into Saint Luke’s rehabilitation center which became our home for the next month where Phil learned to walk, talk,write, eat, and do everyday skills that you learn as a child. We were not out of the clear…there were many ambulance rides back to the ER and several questions that still haven’t been answered. But after his time at Saint Luke’s, we walked out of there together.

 

Sadly, when my dad calls several times-my heart pounds. When I call my parents several times, I’m sure the same happens for them.

When I don’t hear from my brothers I begin to panic.

When my brothers tell me that they love me…I question why they are saying that.

We have added people to the family since, made mends and ripped too many stitches. But here we are. All six of us are still around, happy and healthy (I like to think).

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20 years after meeting chaos…I am now what some would consider to be a professional with chaos. A master of chaos. I can welcome chaos and take care of the situation at hand. I’ve been in many ambulance rides, handled many adult like problems and become a comfort to those who find themselves going through similar situations that I have. This stuff-it is not good. It’s not something that most people share. But this, this has made me who I am.  I’ve never been embarrassed of the hard stuff. To me this is a testimony of my family, our greatness, strength, resilience and love. 

Positive lessons are rarely taught in positive ways

Take care of yourself. Impact people positively. Be sunshine in somebody’s dark day.

Also-I made a peanut butter and bacon sammy last night. It has been a long time since I’ve had one of those!

Thank you for being you.

illie

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2 thoughts on “Waiting for Tragedy

  1. Wow, my heart is calling out to you and hoping that the joy you see in life will continue to lift you up!
    What a story. Thank you for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are truly a gift to the world! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and making a difference in the lives you touch. The world is a better place because YOU are in it!

    Liked by 1 person

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