244Japan wasn’t on my list of countries I wanted to visit. But after my recent trip to Japan, I would definitely go again (with a guide/interpreter) and would encourage you to go as well. My trip to Japan wasn’t vacation. It was conferences, meetings, photo ops, making connections by telling “our 9-11 stories”. Through my connection with the Tribute Center I was invited to be part of a “9-11 meets 3-11” trip. The trip was an amazing journey. It is a journey I am still processing.

A few things I observed/learned from my 9 days in Japan.

1. Japan is a beautiful country – clean modern cities and lush farm lands.

2. Japan is a proud country – modern conveniences steeped with ancient traditions.

3. Japan is a country that is still recovering from a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear spill.

4. I listen better when I don’t understand the language. I don’t speak or understand Japanese. But I found myself really tuning into the person who was speaking. Trying to read their body language, trying to read their heart, trying to see what their eyes were saying. And listening carefully to the translation. At the school for the deaf it was double translation Japanese and sign language.

5. A “mom hug” can help. At one of the mental health centers, we meet a young American who has been teaching English as part of the JET program. He has been in Japan for two years. He arrived two months after the earthquake and has been teaching in one of the badly hit areas. As he was telling us what he has been doing and how he will be leaving soon, there was something that “wasn’t right”, something not being said. I was listening and chatting with him suddenly I said to him “Could I give you a mom hug?” At which point, he said “Yes, it has been a long time.” And then he burst into tears. I also started crying. It was a humbling experience that lead to conversation with not just a “mom” but he also spoke with a few “dads” in the group.

6. I can read about an event. I can watch videos and see it on the news but being there makes it real. It was like ground zero or the devastation from Super Storm Sandy until I saw it with my own eyes I couldn’t believe it. In all three cases, it was worst than I could imagine. And how quickly we forget that people are still recovering, struggling and trying to establish a “new normal”.

7. Lastly, God doesn’t waste anything. All of my experiences can be used to help someone else. I don’t have the answers. Most of the time I don’t even know the question but I have my story. And if my story can help someone else on this journey called life then I have to share it. I believe that is true for each and every one of us. And when in doubt of what it is the right thing to say, your presence, your smile or hug can say it all.