MEMORABLE FIRST DATES

Two years ago, on July 15th, we visited Hiroshima for the very first time. I remember that we had our first dinner in the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) that night and we toasted my beloved Godfather, Roger (the one who taught me to laugh through my pain who passed away in January 2014) because it was his birthday. And we of course, toasted my mom (it also happened to be exactly 6 months since she had passed away).

We have beautiful memories-visiting the same shrine my mom visited when she was a little girl-seeing the beauty of where she grew up as she would describe it before the last year of the war. There were some bittersweet moments as well- standing in front of the cenotaph where the names of all the people who were in Hiroshima that day are written after they pass away, knowing hers would now be listed there along with her Papa.

 

(Hiroshima Bay 7/15/15 Kathleen Burkinshaw)

(Cenotaph Hiroshima Peace Park, Kathleen Burkinshaw)

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now in that same month two years later, on July 7th, 122 countries in the United Nations historically voted on adopting a Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons. And yes, the main countries who have nuclear weapons (U.S. and Russia being two of them) were not at the meeting and are not planning to sign it any time soon.  Neither was Japan. However, Japan will be holding a meeting on nuclear disarmament later in the year and are inviting experts from both nuclear and non-nuclear nations to rebuild trust between them. But every journey begins with taking a first step.

I was invited to celebrate this first step last Thursday, at the Sowing Seeds of Peace meeting hosted by the Western Carolina region of Physicians for Social Responsibility(WNCPSR) and Nuclear Information and Resource Service(NIRS) in Asheville NC. It was an honor to discuss my mom’s experience in Hiroshima on 8/6/45, with a room full of people who have fought and continue to fight diligently for the abolishment of nuclear weapons (including State Representative for Buncombe County, Susan Fisher).  It was so interesting to hear from people who marched in the June New York City Woman’s March to Ban the Bomb (in the pouring rain) discuss their dedication to this cause.

In addition, people who were at the United Nations(UN) and spoke at the various side sessions also presented.  One speaker was Mary Olson (a staff biologist at NIRS). The UN cited her paper GENDER AND RADIATION, (that discussed how women are more at risk from radiation than men) as one of the reasons for this Treaty. Dr. Terry Clark (Chairperson of WNCPRS) closed the meeting with a glass of sparkling grape juice and a toast, “To the Treaty which works against passivity and brings a sense of hope.” I truly believe my mom would be filled with hope, knowing that this first step(albeit, of many) has been taken.

 

Speaking of firsts……August 2nd is the First anniversary of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM(TLCB) being published-Woohoo!! Who knew how fast time would go and that in the first four months it would go through 3 print runs and in the last 8 months be on school summer reading lists, read by students in Australia, and a Finalist for SCBWI Crystal Kite Award(Southeast region)?! I’m so grateful to everyone who made these events possible!😊

To celebrate this First anniversary, I’m doing a GIVEAWAY!! It will start on August 2nd and end on August 31st.  A link to the Rafflecopter giveaway, info on surprises, list of blogs and podcast that will be hosting me for the TLCB Blooming Anniversary Tour will be in my blog post Wednesday, August 2nd. Which will also be a first for me-having 2 blog posts in one week! 🙂

As exciting as all that is, the most important date in August for me is still August 6th. A day that never escaped my mom’s memory, a day that caused horrible nightmares, a day that her world ignited, and her childhood went up in smoke. And yet, she persevered, found her way to love, and realized she still had a reason to live.

I still can picture my mom sitting in the dining room of the home I grew up in with her treasured picture of her and her Papa prominently displayed when I first began to write down her childhood memories. The dining room was her favorite room.  A large picture window let in the afternoon sun and she loved the way it made the goldenrod color of the walls glow. She also insisted on feeding you when you visited-so if you were at the dining room table she knew you would eat and that made her happy. That day was no different, and I had to move plates of fruit, cheese curls, eclairs, and Social Tea Cookies so that I could have space for my notebook to write-now this was just for an afternoon snack-so you can imagine what the table looked like at an actual meal (&those of you who knew my mom, know I’m not exaggerating)! 😊

She stopped in the middle of her story, and told me that she finally understood why she survived that day. She survived so that her Papa and all the people she lost wouldn’t be forgotten (she never mentioned herself).  She wasn’t the one to tell the story, but God blessed her with someone who would be brave enough to do it. I cried when she said it then and am crying now as I write this post.

But to me, my mom was the brave one. She decided to take that first step toward her new life (and to those that have read TLCB, you know where that first step led her).

I hope that she is smiling in heaven- happy that her Papa, the people she loved, (and yes, mom, you too), will be remembered; not only by friends and loved ones, but even by people all over the world!

This year marks the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima (and Nagasaki on the ninth). Unfortunately, due to health issues, I was unable to schedule anything to commemorate the actual day of August 6th.  However, a very special memorial celebration will be held on September 30th, that I will talk about in more detail at the end of August.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why did I choose The Last Cherry Blossom for my title?

©JapanGuide

Since the cherry blossom season is winding down in Japan, I thought I’d answer the question I get asked quite a bit. It’s also a question on the teacher’s discussion guide for the students to contemplate(shh….it will be our secret).

I have always loved the look of cherry blossoms long before I had an inkling of the importance they would play in my life.  I was 8-years-old when I first gazed at cherry blossoms while we were in Tokyo, Japan for a month. We were visiting the woman I knew (and loved) as my grandmother.

I wish I could post a picture of the cherry trees from that time. However, back in those days there were no cell phones, no digital cameras-but no dinosaurs either -I’m old but not that old 🙂 My dad had an 8-mm movie camera and a 35mm film camera. Can the kids today even imagine that we would have no idea what the movie/photo would look like until it was developed? Sadly, because of this and the fact my dad was not good at taking pictures; many of the photos taken did not come out. I have come across these 8mm films recently and hope to look through them this summer, hopefully catching a glimpse of the blossoms.

In Japan, sakura hanami (cherry blossom celebration) depends on what part of the country you live in. Hiroshima’s season was April 5-12th this year. A popular spot is still Hijiyama park with 1300 cherry trees and is where the main character, Yuriko (as well as my mom) celebrated cherry blossom viewing with her family and best friend. And now, unlike during WWII in my book, visitors can admire the pink blossoms dancing in the evening under the lantern lit, starry skies.

©design_energy

©GetHiroshima

Now,back to why I named my book The Last Cherry Blossom…

There are actually a few reasons. My mother’s favorite celebration was sakura hanami, it was the last celebration together as a family, and the cherry blossoms bloomed the Spring after August 6, 1945- showing their resilience and strength.

But I also think the cherry blossom in the title can have meaning in the present. Just as I know the cherry blossom’s bloom is short and will eventually cascade to the ground; certain events are out of my control and will happen no matter how much planning, worrying, or proactive work I may do. In the past, it was my mom being sick and leaving me so devastatingly soon.

But some recent examples for me were:

Several weeks ago, we went to Myrtle Beach for our family Spring Break vacation. As some of you may know, the beach is a special place for my daughter and me. We always get one beach day in together-not for the suntan (or in our case the sunburn) but for the company of each other. And we both love the sound and look of the waves lapping against the sandy shore. I feel very close to my mom there as well. So, we looked ahead at the weather, decided on the warmest day, and planned the week around it. When our beach day finally arrived, it was sunny but windy! We could not control being pelted-no exaggeration- by the sand. We tried to tough it out, but within minutes so much sand blew onto our towels it formed a small hill. No matter how much we planned, we weren’t getting our beach day.

An ongoing example- I’ve been marketing my book, which could be a full-time job in itself 🙂 I don’t always know what area to focus on and have not been very good at pacing myself in accordance to my pain levels. But even when I am, I still can be slammed with a two-week full-blown, stuck in bed with burning pain that no amount of crispy rice treats or chocolate could help, flare up. I also became so disappointed in my body all over again for betraying me.

Lastly, this past month, I was reminded that I can’t control when someone may continue to disappoint me. I can try to make excuses for the past, bury it deep, deep down but something can trigger it and there is no way of nipping it in the bud (see what I did there?).

And when that happens, I can only react and decide how I’m going to face that challenge. Sure, I can throw my plush ‘poo’ emoji (that’s a story for another time) against a wall repeatedly, but I can only do that for so long especially before it causes another pain flare (it’s a vicious circle).

In the case of our sandstorm beach day-we moved it to the indoor pool. We had a wonderful day just the same!

When the pain flares strike, I try to accept it sooner and let my body rest, telling my type A personality everyone needs a break-I’m still working on this one (heavy sigh..).

In the last situation, I keep the memories of the good times available, while also reminding myself I’ve done what I could and some people aren’t going to change. But, I can change how I answer myself when I’m questioning if I did the right thing.

That thought reminds me of the toast Yuriko’s Papa said to his family during what would be their last celebration together:

“Cherry blossoms are like life itself-so beautiful, yet so fragile that they bloom only a short time. A toast to my family and to enjoying our time together!”

Enjoy what you can-the rebirth, the new life of the season. And when the blossom falls, know that there will be a change-it may be good or bad, you can’t always control how it unfolds, but you can control how you view it. Papa’s words remind me that you can embrace what’s coming while also letting go. After all,

“The season changes when the last cherry blossom falls……”

 

Also linking up at :

In celebrating May as Asian American Heritage Month, VisitMulticultural Kid Blogs to register for Giveaway. Second Prize pkg includes a signed copy of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM!

Also on 5/6/17 will be linking up atDiverseKidLit