I can’t believe it’s been almost eight months since I left the United States. I have seen and learned so much along the way, and yet I continue to be amazed at life’s lessons even in my last two weeks of travel.
Japan is unlike any other country I have been to. It has a high life expectancy, and a low crime rate. The people are calm, caring, and considerate. When I tried to offer my train seat to an older man he refused, bowed to me, and repeatedly said “arigato, arigato” (thank you).
Clothed in a rain jacket while waiting for my train from Osaka to Kyoto, it wasn’t abnormally hot, and I wasn’t making any attempt at cooling myself. A Japanese woman probably in her sixties rushed over to me on the platform. “Please, please” she said, as she opened up a fan, waved it at me, and placed it in my hand. She bowed, then ran away.
As she turned her back, I fanned away the tears that started to fall from my eyes. It may seem like nothing to some, but to me it was everything. This is not just a fan, it’s a fan of love. This woman saw me alone and confused, being the only foreign person in a chaotic train station.
Not being able to speak my language, she provided me comfort in the only way she could. I knew what she was telling me without her having to say a word. This fan says I care for you, even though you’re different from me, and I know nothing about you. I thought about how many of us in the United States are willing to show this same kind of caring to those who are different from us.
As I start to think about my journey home, I wonder what the country I’m returning to will be like. As I’ve watched from afar news of hate, violence, and more losses of innocent gay, black, and muslim lives, I wonder if things will ever change. People are hurt, angry, and sad, and rightfully so. My hope though, is that these tragedies won’t further divide us, but bring us closer together.
We can no longer be controlled by fear of what and who we don’t understand. I know I’ve said it before, but we can not let racism, sexism, and xenophobia continue to claim lives. Like the woman who gave me the fan, we have to be able to put ourselves in another person’s position. We have to fight ignorance with knowledge, pride with humility, anger with joy, and hatred with love.
Whether we like to admit it or not, white privilege is real. It is supported not only by millions of stories, but by scientific research and statistics. White privilege does not guarantee we will never go through pain or hardship, but it allows us opportunities to rise against our disadvantages. Other groups have been systematically denied their rights to these opportunities.
We have a responsibility to create a better world not only for our own children, but also for our friends’ and neighbors’ children.There’s no easy solution, but we have to start with love. Yes, we should hold people accountable who take the lives of others out of fear, but we also need to build our communities and bridge cultural divides so that these fears don’t exist in the first place.
Just because a person’s experience isn’t our own experience, doesn’t mean it’s not true. We have to stop telling marginalized populations that their stories aren’t relevant, that their point of view is skewed. We have to admit when we are wrong, and learn from each other. We have to be willing to listen, and also to be a voice for those whose voices are not heard.
I am disheartened by the problems that still exist in 2016, but let us not lose sight of the strength we have in each other. There is still so much inequality to dismantle, but there are so many willing to stand up for justice and peace. Let us be empowered by the hope that good hearts linked together will pave the way for a better future. A small fan of love can start a huge wave of change in our culture and in our world.