I am empty nesting for daughters who are not mine by birth – but mine by love. This morning, I dropped Miki and Manami off at Shenandoah University so that they could continue their journey across the United States – starting with the White House and finishing with Mickey Mouse and Disneyland (a topic for a different blog).
The parting was difficult. In one short week, these lovely college students from Japan worked their way into the lasting affections of every member of my family. As we embraced one last time, Miki said, “We are your daughters now.” With tears in my eyes, I responded, “You are my daughters for life.”
This week, my daughters for life took a new and unfiltered look at the culture I often take for granted. From them, I learned that the things that annoy me about daily life in America also overwhelm visitors…the supersized portions of food, the overabundance of “stuff”, the need for everything to be bigger and better.
But more important, and I learned this from the girls, rather than dwell on our differences, it is important to dwell on what draws us together.
Music is a unifier. Whether it is giggling over “What Does the Fox Say” or belting “Let It Go” in Japanese and English as you let sand trickle through your fingers at the Discovery Museum – music is something that unites us. I half expected the Disney influence – after all Disney has done an incredible job marketing its films and music in Japan. The surprise for me was the pervasive influence of BROADWAY in their culture. Although my Japanese was non-existent, we communicated ideas through “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Edelweiss,” and “Good Morning, Baltimore.”
What makes a daughter for life? Young girls are the same around the world. They laugh at the same things. They enjoy sharing what they know and are good at, whether it is taking funny pictures with their cameras, playing trumpet or flute, or creating beautiful origami cranes (the paperfolding still confounds my clumsy fingers, but I am trying). They seek friendship, particularly from other women and girls, to support and sustain them. They stress over big projects and working outside their comfort zone. They don’t want to appear foolish or at a disadvantage. They worry about saying and doing the wrong things. They want to stand out. They want to fit in. They need affection and love, need to know that someone is trying to understand and that someone loves them without reservation and without judgement.
I learned that more than being bilingual, it is important to be multicultural – thank you for that insight Doug Fisher. While language was sometimes an issue – and google translate not always ideal (did you know that mannequin is doll with no sweat?) – we found our way to each other’s understandings – and more important to one another’s hearts – by listening to and by being present with one another. I love the fact that Mother is “Haha” in Japanese – and bless the girls for reminding me to seek the joy in all that I do.
Because of Miki and Manami – I am looking at my own world through the eyes of the stranger – and I am startled at what I lack. I lack nothing in the material sense of the word. I am blessed with a nice house, a car, a lovely family, food, clean water, vacations, books, education, theatre, small luxuries.
What I lack – and what they helped rekindle without knowing it – is purpose, the idealism that led me to AmeriCorps twenty years ago, that passionate belief that I can change the world. The girls showed me that it is important to listen from the heart, that being quiet lets in understanding, and that love is the true bridge builder between cultures.
Miki and Manami are starting on their journeys, as are Miranda and Ella. The world is alive with possibilities for them. I am in a different place on my journey, yet the world remains alive with wonder and potential. From my place on the spectrum, I am no longer as interested in the grand gesture. While acclaim and worldly advancement are nice – and I’d be lying if I said they weren’t – they aren’t as important to me any longer. My purpose now is to listen, to learn, to observe, and to act from the heart, to do the little things that need doing without thought of reward or praise. Change starts from within and the journey of 1,000 steps begins with both a willingness to say yes and the courage to simply take the first step. Thanks to Miki, Manami, Miranda, Ella, and all of my daughters (and sons) for life, I feel that I have friends to help along my path.