Always Check your Spam Folder

Way back in November,2019 PC (pre Covid-19)… November 5th to be exact I had the honor of speaking at the United Nations in New York City!!!(I know, crazy, right?!) Now, you may remember that in December 2018 I did my chair happy dance when the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) listed The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB) as an Education Resource for Teachers and Students!

Well in April 2019, John Ennis, UNODA Chief of Information and Outreach invited me to participate in a New York City teacher education program in conjunction with Hibakusha Stories, an organization in NYC whose mission is to keep the stories of atomic bomb survivors(hibakusha) alive and taught to the younger generations. Not only that, but as a partner with International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Hibakusha Stories share the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize*! This teacher education program will assist teachers in adding nuclear disarmament to their curriculum. As if that were not amazing enough, I also would participate in the UN Bookshop Meet the Author event and discuss my mom’s experience of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and TLCB. I still feel so giddy just thinking about it 😊

The night before I spent time going over what I would say and taking in the view of Manhattan traffic in the glow of the city lights (my family knows that’s one of my favorite things to do). The view was just so amazing!

NYC lights view

The next morning, I woke up about 3 hours before we had to leave (we had to arrive 8;30). Watching the darkness of early morning burn off from the first ray of sun for the day- a perfect setting to pray, review my notes (again), marvel at the view, and repeat. While I was getting ready, my husband had returned with a surprise treat of a chocolate croissant with my much -needed large cup of coffee. He knows me so well 😊

We had a short walk toward the United Nations building. An interesting note about the UN building- did you know that once you enter you are no longer in the United States?! Yup, although its headquarters’ address is in New York City, once you go through security and enter the courtyard you are entering 18 acres of international territory. Yes, 18 acres- definitely a much larger facility than it looks from the outside! I was very grateful for their kindness in making sure that a wheelchair would be waiting for me(thanks to Diane Barnes)-I’d have never been able to walk everywhere we went that day. Before we entered the UN, I met Suzanne Oosterwijk, a lovely person who had been my main contact before our arrival and the person organizing where I needed to be that day.

View of UN from hotel window

Moments before my magical day began

With Susan Oosterwijk

Our first stop-meeting room for the teacher symposium. Next to the table of fresh fruit and bagels from Brooklyn(yes, I know, I am all about the food), we were greeted by Dr. Kathleen Sullivan, Hibakusha Stories Director and Education Consultant to UNODA along with, Robert Croonquist founder and treasurer Youth Arts New York(parent organization of Hibakusha Stories). Dr. Sullivan and Mr. Croonquist also share the Nobel Peace Prize as partners of ICAN. So not only did I have amazing opportunity to meet Nobel Peace Prize winners, I worked alongside them and they let me hold the actual medal!! THAT was so cool.

Matt and I holding Nobel Peace Prize Medal!

With Nobel Peace Prize winners Dr. Kathleen Sullivan and Robert Croonquist

Before the symposium started, I met, Mitchie Takeuchi. I was thrilled to finally meet a second generation Hibakusha like myself! I felt an immediate connection with her. As I listened to her tell the story of what happened to her mother and grandfather in Hiroshima atomic bombing, my heart ached with empathy. I know that we are both doing what we do to honor our loved ones’ voices, and to give a voice to victims who never had a chance to speak. It humbled me to participate in a session with over 40 compassionate teachers who came, on their own time, to discover ways to add nuclear disarmament to their curriculum.

With Mitchie Takeuchi

With NYC teachers, ICAN, Hibakusha Stories, and myself.

{Before I move on to the UN Bookshop presentation, I just want to say if you have a chance to eat at the UN Cafeteria (once it is safe to do so) the views alone are worth it! But the international selection of food is also delicious. 😊}

I am normally a little nervous before I speak no matter if it is in person or on Skype. But when we exited the elevator and I saw all the people in the bookshop, the various Japanese newspapers/photographers, and NHK World Japan, I’m not gonna lie, I was a potpourri of shocked, humbled, and suddenly extremely nervous. However, once I got to the front, I, reminded myself that this wasn’t about me. I prayed that I would honor the memory of my mom, family and all atomic bomb victims, and that my heart would shine through my words. I looked at my husband for that reassuring smile, and finally, I savored that moment and my once in a lifetime paparazzi experience. Having Dr. Kathleen Sullivan as the moderator was surreal. Did I mention she won the Nobel Peace Prize?! 🙂

Maher Nasser introductions

 
During the question-and-answer section someone commented that TLCB could be the “Anne Frank of Japan”. That totally blew me away. During the book signing I met so many wonderful people and educators. Our new friend Suzanne whisked me off for the United Nations podcast, The Lid Is On, (that aired on my birthday few months ago-a perfect gift)!

With Ana Carmo of UN podcast

Speaking with Fumitaka Sato ,NHK World Japan

The afternoon ended back where we began this joyous day and I had a chance to chat with the UN ODA staff and wonderful members of Hiroshima Stories. I’m so incredibly grateful to John Ennis, Chief of Information Outreach for UN Office of Disarmament Affairs and colleagues Soo Hyun Kim, Diane Barnes, Suzanne Oosterwijk, and Maher Nasser(United Nations Bookshop). As well as to Dr Kathleen Sullivan, Robert Croonquist, Diane, Debra, and Carolina from Hibakusha Stories/Youth Arts New York.

Dr.Sullivan on phone making Matt & my dinner reservations!

John Ennis, UNODA

Matt and I capped off the day with a delicious dinner at Sakagura restaurant. When we returned to the hotel room, I spent the rest of the evening looking out the window at the city lights and traffic below. Before I fell off to sleep, I relived all the amazing moments of the day. If I had to pick one word to describe that day it would have to be magical. The only thing missing was having my Mom there with me to share that day and to know her voice had mattered. But I believe my parents were there in spirit. ❤ The magic of that day shall live in in my heart forever. ❤

Sakagura restaurant,NYC

Matcha tiramasu-as beautiful as it is a delicious dessert


So, now to the reason I named this blog post… One of the interviews I had after the book signing was with NHK World Japan, that filmed part of my presentation at the UN Bookshop. Later they posted about it on NHK World Japan website.

A few days after I returned home, I happened to glance at my Spam folder and found an email from Fumitaka Sato the award winning Senior Correspondent for NHK World Japan that I met at the UN Bookshop! Sato-san wanted to learn more about my mom, how my daughter started my journey to write TLCB, and how it has been used in schools worldwide. And the rest you know from my social media posts about the Japanese and English segments on NHK World Japan TV 🙂 

So, my advice to you all is ALWAYS check your Spam folder. You never know if there is an email waiting to change your life. (Spoiler: if it is from a Prince in a far-off country-that is DEFINITELY NOT the one). 🙂 

* for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that the United Nations adopted on July 7,2017. Although it has not been ratified by all the countries involved, including the ones with the largest number of nuclear weapons (the United States and Russia)- it is a beginning and a sign of hope.








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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