Like a Daughter

Ten years ago (give or take), I decided to sponsor a child through Children International.  The first child they assigned me was an 11 year old girl from the Phillipines.

For the past ten years (give or take) I have watched this girl, and several others, grow from being a, well, young girl, into being a beautiful young woman.  We have exchanged a few letters.  I gave her a little life advice.  She told me some of her hopes and dreams.

I received a letter today that told me she has graduated from the program, at 20, and to be quite frank, I couldn’t be prouder.

I don’t think I’m giving out too much information when I say I have never had children – and it’s looking like I may never have children.  Even if I end up with someone soon, having a baby at my age is somewhat risky, and maybe adoption is the more responsible choice.  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that somewhere between then and now, I began to think of her, in some ways, as a kind of daughter.  She’s not my daughter, obviously.  She has parents and a family that are not me.  But, and I’ve told her this, I couldn’t be any prouder of her than if she were my own.

She sent me a very sweet letter, very grateful for the assistance I’ve provided over the years.  Maybe I did have a huge impact on her life.  But, and I’ve told her this too, it was my honor to do so.  I hope someday to meet her, and there is little I wouldn’t do for her if she truly needed it.

I sponsor several other children, and I feel much the same about them, though the relationship is different.  I began sponsoring them even before they could write – they were toddlers.  It’s different, but the thought occurred to me that they may not remember a time in their life where I was not, in some ways, involved.  That’s a very different feeling.  With the older girl, she knew when I sponsored her.  With the others, I..  am just there.  I’m a fact of life, like maybe their mother and father.  Their mother, father, and overseas sponsor.

And I couldn’t be prouder of them, either.

I’ve been assigned a new child, now that the first one has graduated.  She is about the same age as the first one was when I sponsored her, and I hope I see her graduate as well.  If this is the only impact I have on the world, well, it’s enough, I think.  Or, at least, it’s something.

I am a misanthrope.  I really don’t like people.  I’ve made no secret of that.  But, I must say, I think I love my overseas children, just as I would my own.  And what a gift that is.  For them, yes.  And for me, as well.

Chibi Maruko-Chan Goes to a Tropical Island

Last night I watched an episode of Chibi Maruko-Chan (English dubbed, unforunately). In this episode, Maruko’s ojii-san wins a trip to a tropical island, but can’t go. Maruko, in her own initimitable way, manages to finagle her way into going. On the way, she has some really fun adventures and makes a new friend.

In this episode, she is a very brave little girl. She flies on an airplane by herself, she gets on a boat by herself, she even goes on a canoe trip to an island along with her new friend and a couple of older boys. Of course, she is part of a tour, so people are kind of looking out for her, but this is her adventure.

As I was watching the episode, I kept expecting something bad to happen. She was sat next to a gansgster-looking man who kept trolling her about how the airplane could crash, but he apologized and became, if not a friend, at least someone she kind of trusted. She was on the boat with her little purse next to the railing, and I kept expecting the purse to fall overboard. Every time she went on a new part of her adventure, I wondered what was going to go wrong. I imagined her losing her money, losing her passport, being stuck on the island with no way home, etc., etc. But none of that happened!

As she arrived back home, full of new memories of wonderful adventures and missing her new friend, I wondered what happened to me over the years? What happened to me, that even in a fun story about a little girl on an adventure, I kept wondering what bad thing was going to happen? Why did it never even occur to me that maybe… maybe everything would turn out okay? After the episode ended, I gurned off my phone and had a good, hard look at myself. What happened to me?

I know it’s a story. I know it’s a children’s story. I know, boy do I know, that things aren’t all sunshine and roses. But why aren’t they? Did you ever notice that whenever a child draws something, it’s usually anthropomorphized, and it has a smile? The bees have smiles, the birds have smiles, everything has a benevolent smile. Their world is beautiful. Full of bright colors, and fun, and adventure. And then the children grow up, and turn into… something else. Into me. Jaded, hurt, damaged, always wondering what’s going to go wrong next. And when something doesn’t go wrong, we are surprised, think “that’s good news”, and then wait for the next thing to go wrong. Because in our minds, something always goes wrong.

In the story, Maruko made a new friend. And when she left the island, she knew that she would never see her friend again. She missed her terribly. That is a lot for a nine year old to process, and I really like that the story dealt with it so honestly. But, even then, when she got home, she was happy to see her parents. Her friend wasn’t forgotten, but it didn’t consume her and it didn’t destroy her.

Jesus said, “Be as little children”. Is this, perhaps, what he meant? The way we were, once, before the world happened, and turned us into… adults?

Gimme Chocolate

The year is 1945.  Japan has been ravaged as a nation, and many of its larger cities have been bombed into an unrecognizable mess.  Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s core business districts are flattened wastelands of radioactive rubble, and hundreds of thousand of Japanese citizens have been killed.  Most of those citizens had nothing whatsoever to do with the war.  They were just living their live, and some politician somewhere decided they were going to go to war with the United States, as well as committing atrocities all over the pacific rim.

It was a difficult time.  The most hardship many in the US had to endure was some fear, economic hardship, and rationing.  The hardships those in Japan had to endure were… much worse.  Families were shattered, and children became orphans.  Or worse.

When the American servicemen came onto the shores of Japan, I’m sure they encountered many children who were in very bad shape.  They had lost their parents, may have been living in squallid conditions, and in a very real way, the same people who had been the day prior bombing the ever loving whatever out of their country were now their rescuers.   The servicemen had a difficult task ahead of them – to gain the trust of those who they had previously been enemies with.

I don’t know all the details of this time.  I’m not a WWII historian.  Frankly, I don’t think I could be.  It was a horrific time.  But after Japan was conquered, it became a time for peace, for reconciliation, and for reparation.

And the American servicemen brought chocolate.

The Japanese children didn’t know how to say much English.  In fact, I think it being “taught” in schools is very much a postwar thing.  But they learned how to say two words:  “gimme choco”.

See, the mind of a child, no matter what the nationality, is simple and uncluttered.  They did not understand war.  They did not understand what happened to their cities, or their parents.  But if you came to them offering to make their lives better – and with a little bit of luxury added on in the form of chocolate – the healing could begin.  We offered chocolate, and they learned that we had chocolate.  It didn’t make everything better, but it made things just a little better.

Adults deserve the consequences for what they do, but the children never do, and to their credit, the American servicemen understood this as well.  NO ONE likes to see children affected by a war, and those who do are sick indeed.

Babymetal is a “Kawaii Metal” band whose songs, well, pretty much everything about them, tends to be layered with many different levels of meaning, and their song “Gimme Chocolate” is one of them.  On the surface, it is simply a song about a girl wanting a little chocolate but is worried about her weight.

And then superimposed on that is onomatopaeia for machine guns.

Eighty years since, Japanese children say “gimme chocolate” not because they lost their home and parents, but because it tastes good, but they’re worried about their weight so they’re not sure whether or not they should have any.

The children of Japan in 1945 did not have this worry.  They had many more pressing things to worry about.

Eighty years later, few people live who remember those times.  Adults who are in their mid eighties might have been one of those children who shyly asked for chocolate in the only English they knew.

Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

I do hope that in the future, children continue to be able to ask for chocolate because they want it, not because it’s the only comfort they have.

War is hell.  It was hell on everyone involved, and it still is.  And the children, of any nationality or race, do not deserve to be exposed to it.  It is good that Babymetal, in their own inimitable style, has reminded the Japanese of that fact.  The American media is asleep at the switch.  They are openly advocating for war, both internal and external.  Perhaps there should be, as uncomfortable as it is, a reminder of the horrors of what they are attempting to unleash.

And maybe we should start with a small Japanese child, clutching a ragged stuffed animal, which is maybe the only thing she owns, asking a serviceman for chocolate.

For that is what war wreaks.

This was a very hard post to write.  I hope you get something from it.