elevators, punch lines and tweets.

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Sometimes, I wonder. Today I had 3 “interesting” elevator experiences. This afternoon, I had a meeting with a Japanese reporter at the September 11 Family Association offices. I headed over there after supporting the 11 o’clock tour and leading the 1 o’clock tour at the 9/11 WTC Tribute Center. (I mention that to show that maybe I was tired). Security in NYC doesn’t allow you to just walk into most office buildings. I checked in and was allowed through the security gates and pushed the button on the panel to “call” for an elevator. The panel lets you know which elevator is “yours”. You don’t get in any elevator. A designated elevator arrives and then delivers you to that specific floor. When you get in the elevator you don’t push a button for your floor like you do in a hotel. Anyway, I wasn’t paying attention and got on the wrong elevator which I had to ride all the way to the 33rd floor and back down again to the lobby. The guy on the elevator commented “I think you are on the wrong elevator but don’t worry it goes down faster than it goes up” which was actually a worrisome idea.

After my interview, I exited the offices and pushed the button to go down. The elevator came, I got in and waited. I thought wow, it is taking a little long to go 8 floors. Duh!?! Going down you have to push the L lobby button. And to finish my weird elevator day, when I got in the elevator at the parking garage a rabbi, a mobster and 3 steel workers got in too and I wanted to laugh out loud. Instead I tweeted “A steel worker, a rabbi & a mobster get in an elevator. Not punch line for a joke but stereotypes of who was just in the elevator with me!!” Go figure. Your average day in NYC. Hope stuff like this happens to other people or is it just me.

Speaking of elevators, my daughter was afraid of elevators when she was young. Every now and then I would catch her playing in the bathroom with her dolls. She would be opening and closing the door and when asked what she was doing she would say “I am playing elegator.” That isn’t a typo, she called “elevators, elegators” πŸ™‚

Travel Tuesday – S1E19 – Japan PhDs & MDs

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282During my recent trip to Japan, I participated in and attended three different university conferences on mental health and disasters. It was slightly intimidating. I had joked with a fellow Tribute Center docent that I would be lucky if I made it out of the conference without being “locked up”. Seriously when we walked into the first conference at Fukushima Medical University The Center for Medical Sciences I thought wow, what am I doing here? The table was very formally set with the 12 members of “our” team on one side and the 12 members of the university staff on the other. It was what I imagine the Paris peace talks must have looked like. There was a presentation that explained the extent of the March 11, 2011 disaster and the immediate after effects. Then the two doctors traveling with us from Mount Sinai Hospital offered a presentation about September 11 medical health programs and findings. Both presentations were very informative.

The next day we attended a conference at the International Research Institute of Disaster Sciences at Tohuku University. Due to space and time limitations just two of us would speak at this conference. One of the doctors from Mount Sinai would explain the work the Japan Society has done and then the concept of “9/11 meets 3/11”. My fellow docent and I would briefly tell our personal September 11 stories.

One of the doctors asked me “what did I think the two disasters had in common and how were they different.” I responded “They were different because 9/11 was an act of terrorism and 3/11 was an act of nature. And I feel they are similar because people died. And loss is loss whether it is your family member or your home. Loss is universal just has hope is universal. I have often said “I have had a personal loss in the midst of a national tragedy.” I loss my husband but America as a nation was changed. In Japan there are people who have lost their family members so their loss in personal, but as a nation you have loss something as well. My heart is sad for Japan.” There was one more conference to attend at the same university and all of us were able to share at that venue. We would also visit mental health clinics and two relocation centers.

Often on my tours I mention “I have had a personal loss in the midst of a national tragedy and there is no handbook to tell you how to do that”. Well, it seems there are MD’s and PhD’s in Japan and the USA who are trying to write that handbook. I am glad for that but I also hope it is a handbook no one will ever need.

let’s do lunch

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If you had peeked through the kitchen window, it would have looked like three women having lunch. And you would have been right but you would have missed all the other layers. There were three of us – myself, my neighbor and my sister-in-law. We were having a delicious lunch which was so generously supplied by my neighbor and served at my weekend house aka the Barn. But the luncheon was so much more than just lunch. It was a time for my sister-in-law, my neighbor and I to share our breast cancer stories. For my sister-in-law to encourage my neighbor who isn’t as far down the road as she is. It was a time for us to voice victories and concerns. A time to say “we hate all that pink stuff”. A time to remember how far we have come and how far some people still have to go. We laughed. We listened. We loved.

And I was reminded that God doesn’t waste anything. All that you or I have experienced and learned along the way can help or encourage that person who is one step behind or across the street. Having lunch or maybe just holding the door open for that person who is one step behind is all that is needed. The bonus is you are encouraged, too. So who do you need to do lunch with? πŸ™‚

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Travel Tuesdays – S1E18 Japan – lost in translation

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All the hotels we stayed in while in Japan had a complimentary robe/nightgown and slippers. The above emergency exit sign on the back of the door at one hotel was puzzling. My “roommate” and I weren’t sure if the hotel was worried about you being properly dressed. Or were they worried about you stealing their nightgown and slippers. In an emergency, aren’t you just suppose to get out.

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Twice during my trip to Japan I received emergency alerts. It is wonderful that your cell phone let’s you know there is an emergency. Unfortunately, I knew there was an emergency that part is written in English. However, what the emergency was is written in Japanese. So I know to be concerned but don’t know why. Duh!?! Fortunately, our guides could explain.

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Where is the sink? Oh, the sink is part of the toilet. When you “flush” the toilet, the water first comes out the top so you can wash your hands and then that water is used to fill the tank. Good for small bathrooms and good way to conserve water. πŸ™‚

Japan – a very busy day

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The complimentary breakfast buffet was served at the sister hotel of the hotel we were staying at in Koriyama, Fukushima, Japan. It was only a short walk away. We all met in the hotel lobby at the appointed time and as we walked over to the other hotel, one of the men in the group stated that the birds we heard tweeting weren’t real. What?? After he returned from his morning run, he had mentioned to the hotel clerk how nice it was to hear birds singing as he ran in the city. The front desk clerk stated “they aren’t real birds. It is sound effects that are piped in to promote a tranquil feeling.” Wow!! That was a little freaky for me. Reminded me of Hunger Games and left me not feeling very tranquil.

After breakfast one of our guides/translators, Toshi, asked if we would like to make a brief stop at the Koriyama Fire Department that was right across the street from our hotel. We were warmly welcomed and were invited to review their equipment and watch a training exercise. We boarded our bus for the busiest day we would have during our time in Japan. We didn’t travel as far as we would in the coming days but we went from one event to another all day long.

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First stop was the school of the deaf. We were welcomed by a poster that they had made for us. (note: President Obama, hamburger, hot dog, the flag and statue of liberty) After we took off our shoes and slipped into slippers, we were escorted through the school to an all-purpose type room and greeted with smiles and clapping. The principal told us about the school which is for preschoolers to high schoolers. The high school students were our hosts. After a few speeches that were translated not just into English but also into sign language, we were served tea and a pudding type dessert. We then broke into small groups and the students introduced themselves using pads of paper that had their names and what they enjoyed doing written in English. The first student said “he liked to read books.” I told him in English and pointing to myself, smiling and pretending to hold a book that “I liked to read books.” He smiled. Another student mentioned he liked comic books. One of my fellow travelers said “he liked to read Superman when he was young.” One of the kids outlined an “S” on his chest which caused laughter. Our time concluded with a group photo and the phrase “one more” was used for the first time and would continue to be used for the entire trip. πŸ™‚

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Our next stop was lunch at a Japanese Restaurant. Shoes off again but this time our shoes were handed in to a shoe (coat) check instead of being left by the door. Lunch was delicious. I ate most of it after questioning my fellow travelers as to “what was what.” I did eat with chopsticks. After lunch we walked across the street to Kaiseizan Park to see the Soaring Crane Memorial. This visit was so special on so many levels. Last October the group from the Tribute Center had delivered the crane, which is made out of WTC steel, to the people of Japan. The mayor of Koriyama and the press joined us at the memorial so there were many photos. Smile!! One more!! Also joining the group was the nephew of Sadako, who is the young girl whose vision of world peace is celebrated by the crane story. Worth reading if you aren’t familiar with her story – Sadako and the thousand cranes. The crane in the park is positioned to point towards New York. FYI: one of Sadako’s original cranes is at the Tribute Center in New York.
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From the park we joined the mayor at a traditional tea house for a traditional tea ceremony. We all sat on the floor, each were served tea individually and then we admired the tea-cup, turned the tea-cup 3 times, took 3 sips and placed the cup back on floor with a bow and a thank you. From the tea house we traveled to the indoor playground. The children of Koriyama cannot currently play outside due to the radioactive contamination of the soil. A company in Koriyama donated the building and a company from Denmark has leased the equipment to the city for five years for free. All the people working there are city employees who volunteer their time. It was a wonderful, kid friendly place and all seemed to be having a great time. Radiation detectors can be seen all over Koriyama and are supposed to make people feel better because the readings are low. Not so sure how that would make me feel.

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After the playground we made a quick stop at the hotel and then walked over to our staging area for the parade. We were dressed in our kimonos, practiced our dance and hit the streets to be part of the big parade. Similar to being in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade but it wasn’t New York and it was thanksgiving but really who gets to do stuff like this. Amazing. We didn’t win any awards for our dancing ability but it was an unforgettable experience.
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Our day still had one more event – a formal dinner with the rotary club and local firefighters. After which some of us were invited to walk over to a local volunteer fire department to see their firehouse. So we headed out one more time. The firefighters were very proud of their fire engine and handed those of us who ventured that way a traditional Japanese fire dress uniform. Totally humbled by the kindness of everyone I had met on this very busy day.

A gentle tap on my shoulder

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It wasn’t actually a physical tap on my shoulder. You know the kind that says “excuse me” or “don’t forget” or “I am here”. None the less it was a tap on my shoulder. Let me explain. I was sitting in the doctor’s office with my daughter. Her doctor was looking over my pathology reports from five years ago. Not to worry all is well with me and my daughter. We were making sure her doctor knew the family history. Anyway, her doctor is reading my reports and states “your doctor must have been very pleased with the results.” I mention again I am 5 years cancer free and he continues with the task at hand of examining my daughter. As we are getting ready to leave he summarizes the visit for my daughter and then looks at me and says something like “wow, you had 3 negatives and here you sit.” And that is when I felt the tap on my shoulder “it was a bigger miracle than you realized. I have a plan. I always have.”

I never doubted that God, prayer, chemo, radiation, good doctors, great friends played a part in my cancer recovery. But sometimes I need a gentle tap on my shoulder to remind me of how far I have come. I am grateful and so very blessed.

I have a feeling we all need to pause sometimes and see how far we have come and be grateful. I like a tap on the shoulder better than getting hit head on the head with a 2×4. Just saying…

Japan – the journey begins

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The flight to Japan is long. 14 hours to be exact. The flight actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Partly because I had a bulkhead seat and had leg room so my attitude was better than average going into it. Also partly because traveling at night I did sleep a bit. The good news is they do “feed you” unlike on domestic flights or even when I flew to Scotland via Iceland in July. They actually “feed you” multiple times – dinner, random sandwich and then dinner again. That is the strange part of flying to Japan, you skip a day. We flew out of JFK at 7pm on Wednesday evening and arrived in Tokyo at 9:00pm on Thursday night so I didn’t really have Thursday daytime. Going into the trip I decided to sleep when it was dark and eat when I was hungry so I just went with it. πŸ™‚

The first night in Japan was at the Hotel Metropolitan Marunouchi. The hotel lobby is on the 27th floor of an office building. The next morning a buffet breakfast was available. You had the choice of Western breakfast – cereal, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, croissants or Japanese breakfast – rice, fish, fruit, omelets (looked more like quiche), soup or salad. And thus the exploring new food combinations began.

After breakfast we ventured next door to catch the bullet train to Sendai. We had been warned that the train stops for 1 minute – 30 seconds for people to get off and 30 seconds for people to get on. No pressure!?! There is no confusion as to where to stand as there are markings on the platform as to where to line up for which car – very orderly. Getting on and off trains with luggage (or even without luggage) is a challenge for me. I get really nervous if there is a “gap” between the train and the platform. I am sure I am going to fall through and become a “movie of the week”. The subway in NYC makes me nervous. When I was in Oxford last month, there was a space so big I really could have fallen through. Thankfully my son-in-law grabbed my bag for me. Luckily there wasn’t a gap in Japan and we all got on the train in a timely, orderly fashion. πŸ™‚

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From Sendai we boarded a charter bus and traveled to the temporary housing units in Gankoya, Soma, Fukushima. We shared our stories, Christmas in summer treats for the children and adults and a meal with the residents. The families at this housing unit are here because of the nuclear radiation spill caused by the earthquake. Most of their homes were not damaged by the earthquake or tsunami but they were within the evacuation area for the radiation. It is not safe for them to live in their homes and they don’t know if they will ever be able to return home. Some people have relocated to totally different areas of the country. Many people’s jobs have also been impacted. An elderly woman’s daughter had owned a farm but has had to find work elsewhere leaving her mother behind at the relocation housing center. She commented “I see her once a week”. So sad.

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I spoke with a young woman whose husband has to travel much further to work because the hospital he worked at has been closed due to the radiation. So she is alone with three small children much of the time. Her youngest daughter was born after the earthquake. And the young woman commented that “she has never seen her home.” 😦

A quick visit to see the mental health center and then a bus ride to Koriyama our home for the next two days. more to come…