Monday, March 31, 2014

Happy Music

I did what I do every day on my way to UVa grounds - that is, I cut through the hospital lobby.  It's a fairly typical hospital lobby, with people from all ages and walks of life sitting in chairs, talking with each other, while waiting for any number of things that a person in a hospital lobby can await.

Today, when I walked in, someone was sitting at the piano, pounding out a jazz piece that I assumed was of the pianist's creation - with not much more than a melody and various jazzy chords underneath repeated in syncopated rhythm. The feeling in the room was different.  I started looking more at the people around me only to realize they were all either talking about or looking towards the origin of the music. 

As I walked past the piano, I noted the pianist - a young man not more than twenty, with his backpack on the ground next to him, playing his heart out.  His playing drew people toward him, with smiles and visibly lighter moods. 

Suddenly, as if I was given the gift of hearing and understanding, the melody rang out to a jazzy version of Happy (by Pharrell Williams). 

Could it be that that song really has the power to bring happiness to a room?  Or was it the pianist, who thought he would most like to spend his afternoon bringing a little joy through music? 

It made my day. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

We Got This

My roommate and I went to pick up a nightstand from a furniture store today.  We emptied the trunk and hoped that it would fit.

The furniture store men gallantly carried the box to the car and shoved it in one way and then another before realizing that it was wedged.

"It would fit in the back seat," they suggested.  "If you took out the baby's car seat."  We looked at them and the baby in our arms and shook our heads - sorry, that was definitely NOT an option.

Then, as we juggled the baby between us, we went to work.  With some small bungee cords, and a cord from a baby something or other and a bungee net used in the trunk, we managed to rig quite a little get up as the men watched us in some shock and surprise.  "Where there's a will, there's a way, I guess," they conjectured. 

My friend looked at them and smiled, "We're going to figure this out.  You see, we do both have degrees in engineering."  (I beamed in delight as I realized that I did indeed have a degree in engineering.  And then I remembered, I had two!) 

After getting in the car, we high-fived and laughed at our methods but proudly made it home safely.

Monday, March 17, 2014


"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

-Calvin Coolidge, Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1999)

Saturday, March 15, 2014


Today, at a church meeting, after the combined missionary/youth group choir sang, a man turned around and told the men sitting behind him, "My niece was up there with that choir.  She has a speech impediment but she was able to sing with them.  It's a miracle." 

The person sitting next to me and I looked at each other. 

"Did you just hear what that man said?" Our eyes asked each other, wide-eyed in surprise. 


Friday, March 14, 2014


I came down sick yesterday.  I should have been writing papers and editing proposals and doing nice scholarly things. 

Instead, I lay on my bed, in a half state of consciousness for 10 hours before my roommate came home and we chatted for a few minutes before I slept again.  I think the cat even started wondering how I could compete with him for number of hours slept in a day. 

Do you know what I found is impossible to do while sick? 


But you know what I did do?  I watched hours of mindless TV and held a baby and sat lazily on the couch and watched Pitt win over UNC.  There's something delightful about occasional mindlessness. 

But I really do hope my brain returns with my appetite. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Half Baked Ideas for Sale

Yesterday's post about three years was vague.  Vague might as well be my middle name.  It is so hard for me to just lay it all out, say it like it is. 

Here's the deal:

Three years ago, an earthquake hit Japan, followed by a devastating tsunami.  In some ways, I think I'm weird for liking Japan, for remembering this date.  It makes me feel like I'm trying to ingratiate myself into Japanese culture.  (Don't get me wrong - I am) As though I am putting undue emphasis on one event in the long history of Japan. 

That day burns bright in my memory because literally minutes after learning of the tsunami and watching the horrifying footage, I walked down the halls of my lab and ran into a colleague who asked, "Hey, have you met our visiting research, Toshi?  He just arrived from Sendai."  I gasped in shock. 

When I think about what I knew about Japan then and what I know now, the difference feels vast.  I'd already fallen in love with the Japanese soccer team; I'd already decided that I wanted to be forever friends with Tamada-san.  But regarding language, culture, even geography, I knew very little. 

Since that moment of meeting Toshi, I've learned so much more.  I've been to Sendai and explored its roads.  I've met hundreds of different people, at church, at Tohoku University and even on the streets.  I've watched them.  I've eaten their food and shopped in their stores.  I've attempted conversation in their language and tried to learn history and culture.  Japan feels diverse to me and complicated and so much more than a tsunami.  But that memory continues to burn bright because it marks a point when I realized that I cared about a people and a land thousands of miles away from me. 

When I think about my own personal journey since then, both with Japanese culture and with my doctorate work, the times feels much longer than three years.  And then I think about the people of Japan, for the victims who are recovering and wonder if their lives since then have felt long or short.  Japan is a good place for healing.  I felt that with my personal struggles while I lived in Japan and I always wondered if it was because I felt that everyone was healing in their own way and because of the tsunami, I just knew of a public healing that was taking place. 

In any case, for these many jumbled thoughts about life and Japan and the desire to honor something of a country I continue to care about, I wrote a vague blog post trying to express some of these ideas without the substance behind these ideas lest I appear condescending or trite.

But it all reminds me of a book I recently read called Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe.  In it, a kid comes to realize that life is so vast and full of good and bad.  If you were to count up all of the memories, even from just a year's time, you would have a lifetime of memories.  If you were to live for a long time, then, there would be so many experiences that you'd have an eternity.  I guess these past three years feel like that.  I've had so many good GOOD experiences in the past three years.  I've had many sad experiences too.  But overall, it's been a full life and a rich life.  It's been a lifetime.  I wonder what this next year will bring. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I feel like I've done so much living - the kind of living that requires me to stretch and grow, the kind of living that breaks hearts and bends knees - that it feels like a decade but it has only been three years.

Healing comes.  It takes time. But it comes.

"Anyone can close their eyes
Pretend that nothing is wrong.
Open your eyes. 
Look for the light." 

Be the Light by One Ok Rock

Spelling it Out

Sister: Baby can write her name now.
Baby: No, I can't.
Sister: But you're definitely getting better at writing those e's and s's.

Baby: I can spell cat.  A-N-N-P-E-P
Me: <hahahaha>
Sister: <not even chuckling> That's too many letters, Baby. 

Friend: So, what you're saying is you want a man who is kind but not too kind, a man who is gentle but has some spunk and a man who is perfect but not a perfectionist?
Me: Well, we can see why I'm not married.

Sister: Baby, don't write your name on my door!  Where does she get this from?
Me: <thinking> At least it's not a rock on your car, like some people I know.

Baby: <finding her old pacifier> Let's give this to Gwiyomi!!
Sister: A paci is not something you share.
Baby: <putting it in her mouth> Mmjphph... <taking it out> How did I ever talk with this in my mouth?
Sister: I have no idea!  But you used to be pretty good at it.

My friend introduced this to me today.  It's a group called Babymetal from Japan who are singing a rock song about preferring chocolate over rock music.  It's ironic and kind of hilarious.  And if it weren't a metal song, I'd think this was Baby's theme song.  

Thursday, March 6, 2014


I went to and got my diploma today.  I was saving it for a special occasion - you know, one of those days when the whole world felt like it was against you.  On that sort of day, I wanted to be able to go claim my diploma and remind myself that I have accomplished something.  A sort of "Don't worry, you're not a failure; here's a PhD!"

But somehow, I woke up this morning and decided, "Today is the day."  After English class, I went over to the building and walked over to the correct department.  The lady took my ID and left, in search of my diploma.  When she came back, she was holding a LARGE piece of paper with my name on it, spelled correctly and lots of cursive writing that I was suddenly struggling to read because I could feel tears wanting to form.  It all felt so monumental and surreal.

The lady looked at me, "Are you going to roll it up yourself?  Or should we?"

I stopped staring, stopped fighting the tears and returned to reality.  "Oh, sorry.  I can do it."  With shaking hands, I rolled up that diploma and put it into the tube they supplied.

I'm sure that woman gives away diplomas on a daily basis.  But  for me, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"I have worn the honors of Honor. I graduated from Virginia."  - James Hay, Jr.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

希望 (Hope)

長谷部誠さん へ、

Life doesn't seem too kind right now, does it, mein lieblinggspieler?  In a test match, you fell and tore the meniscus in your knee.  (I still don't even know what a meniscus is, by the way.)  You braved the first wave of surgery and rehabilitation with courage and confidence.  But then, the pain came back.  Within days, you were back in Japan, back under the knife, and back in a hospital bed.  The road to recovery begins once more.

When all is said and done, I know you'll be fine.  You're a good man who is supported and loved by many people.  You have a good head on your shoulders and optimism and perspective that impress me.

But in the meantime?

If there was one thing that I could offer you across the distance, it would be this: hope.  I wish I could hand it over like a pearl, reflecting its own certain kind of gleaming light.  Then in those moments when you feel a little less than brave, a little less than confident, a little less than optimistic, you could take it out and examine it.  As you hold it, you could absorb some of that light and the perspective of the bright future that awaits you.  I wish hope were that tangible.  So, instead, I write you this post, wishing that, somehow, my faith in you and who you are will burn bright enough to send a little ray in your direction.  Don't give up.  Don't give up on hope.

Life is not easy, nor is the path certain.  But you are strong enough to endure.


P.S. As per usual, this post is not just about Hasebe-san.  To all of my dear loved ones who are facing some difficulties and uncertainties on your respective journeys, please never forget that virtue hope, which helps us face our future as we progress beyond our present.
View from from Ensign Peak

Monday, March 3, 2014

Siberian Forest Cat Likes Snow

Cat is glued to the window today.  It appears that he doesn't want to miss any of the latest in the new saga called "Snow on a Monday in Charlottesville".  He's so afraid of missing out on the action that not even an eight month old baby can scare him away from his spot.

Thus far, he's watched such exciting episodes as "Snow Falling," "Birds Flying around in the Snow," "Snow Flying Sideways," and "Snow Plow Goes Through the Parking Lot."  And this is only the first five hours of the snow watching marathon!

It's been an exhilarating day for at least one of the members of  this apartment.

In other news, the eight month old baby thought that starting off the week by waking up every hour on the half hour was his idea of a fun time.  His mother and I feel otherwise.