“What happened to me must never happen to you.”
Caren: Those were the first words Sachiko Yasui, a Nagasaki atomic bomb survivor, told me as we began our work together writing her story. On August 9, 1945, at 11:02, six-year-old Sachiko was playing outside with her friends, making mud dumplings, when the second atomic bomb of World War II exploded over her city of Nagasaki. Sachiko and her friends were 900 meters from ground zero, less than a half mile away. Sachiko’s survival was miraculous and so is her story of recovery, resilience, hope, and peace. I spent six years interviewing Sachiko in Nagasaki, Japan, and researching the history of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for a book for young people. Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story was published in 2016 by Carolrhoda/Lerner Publishing Group. I intended to write Sachiko’s story to change young readers’ lives — to understand the horrors of war and the deep need for peace. What I didn’t anticipate is how much Sachiko would change my life. The last words Sachiko offered for our book were these:
What is peace?
What kind of person should I be?
Keep pursuing answers to these questions.
Sachiko’s questions have spurred me on to, what is now, a life-long journey to understand peace and act in the name of peace. One of those actions is to collaborate with peacemaker and writer Ellie Roscher to write this series of Peace-ology articles. Another is to become involved in the Peace Literacy Institute under the umbrella of the Nuclear Age Peace Institute in Santa Barbara, California. Each morning, I think of Sachiko and ask myself: What’s one thing I can do to bring a random act of peace into my day.
Stories change lives. Sachiko’s changed mine. What stories have changed yours?
A Bowl Full of Peace — What do you put in a bowl?
“How would you write a picture book about Sachiko’s story?” asked Carol Hinz, my editor at Carolrhoda/Lerner. The question stumped me. Then I remembered Grandmother’s bowl. When Sachiko’s family returned to Nagasaki, her home and everything in it had been destroyed. The only object found was Sachiko’s grandmother’s bowl. Sachiko’s father discovered the bowl in the rubble. By some miracle it survived without a crack or chip.
In A Bowl Full of Peace, Japanese illustrator Akira Kusaka captured Grandmother’s bowl, the resilience of Sachiko’s family, and the longing for peace. After I read the picture book to a seventh-grade class, I asked students what was going through their minds as I read. One boy said how important his family was to him. A girl added she hadn’t realized how much you can lose in a war. I asked illustrator Akira Kusaka, to share how Sachiko’s story affected him. He said knowing Sachiko’s story changed his art and his life.
Grandmother’s bowl became Sachiko’s family’s symbol of hope and peace. Every August 9th, Sachiko’s mother filled Grandmother’s bowl with ice chips to commemorate the atomic bombing. Together, the family remembered all those who were so terribly thirsty from the heat of the bomb’s blast, all who were in excruciating pain, all who died. As the ice melted in Grandmother’s bowl, Sachiko’s family spent the day praying that such a terrible war would never happen again. As Sachiko grew older, the bowl became her most treasured object. On the bowl were the fingerprints of her beloved brothers and sister, her parents, and other family members lost to the bomb. But what Sachiko placed in the bowl was just as important — hope, love, peace. This August 9th, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I too will fill my special bowl with hope, love, and peace.
Peace Literacy: Digging Deeper
What if children spent twelve years of their school lives learning about peace in the same way they learn to read and become literate? What if schools and communities invested in a developmental, skill-based curriculum that guided children, teachers, and parents in a life-long study of peaceful living? What would our society look like then? Peace Literacy Director Paul Chappell asks those questions and suggests:
“Our understanding of peace is only as good as our understanding of the human condition and trauma. To gain a deep and practical understanding of extremism, trauma, and the nature of human happiness, and to solve our national and global problems in the twenty-first century and beyond, we need a realistic and pragmatic model of the human condition … Peace Literacy is based on research about basic human needs such as self-worth and belonging, and how trauma gets entangled with these needs.”
For greater insight into Peace Literacy, its philosophy and curriculum, go to www.peaceliteracy.org .
The first time I heard Paul Chappell speak, I was impressed by his deep understanding of trauma, his own and society’s. How do we understand bullying? School shootings? Racist anger? Suicide? The list goes on, describing a war of tangled trauma. When you see aggression, what are the heated reasons under the surface? How do we, as loving parents, teachers, neighbors, reach out to our young people who burn with the heat of fear loneliness, and despair — and take action? One caring adult can make all the difference in a young person’s life. That adult could be you. It could be me.
As Sachiko Yasui asked:
What is peace?
What kind of person do you want to be?
Keep pursuing answers to these questions.
Questions Toward Action: Caren and Ellie
We are writing this post as the entire world faces the COVID 19 Pandemic. Terrible and challenging as this time is for everyone, it may be just the right time to start a practice of peace, even while social distancing. Where to start?
With ourselves: Find some quiet time to be with yourself. Breathe deeply. Ask yourself: What are you grateful for? Who are the people you love? What is one thing you are glad you did, yesterday or today? What can you do tomorrow that will make you proud of yourself?
With one another: Who can you reach out to by phone, email, social media, postal service, or sidewalk chalk drawing and send a message of friendship?
In community: What can you do as a service to others to help ease the loneliness of being separated, or help with a cause to ease the suffering of this pandemic time?
For young people, teachers, parents, anyone, the Birds of Peace website may spark ideas and invite you to join others in an online community of peace seekers. Please check out the website and share it widely.
This is the last Peace-ology post until September when Caren and Ellie will resume their peace exploration. Until then, stay healthy and safe and let us know what you find along your own pathway to peace.
For each Peace-ology post, Caren and Ellie partner to learn and explore the meaning of peace by talking and listening with each other. If you’d like to share your ideas about peace, books, and children, please share your comments here, or visit our websites.