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Power in a Smile
by Tomoyo Kawasaki
Kurashiki Suisho High School, Okayama Prefecture
Messages of Peace from Chiran
13th Annual Speech Contest, 2002
Third Prize, High School Division

My great-grandmother died at the age of 98 on the day I became a high school student. My high school entrance ceremony turned out to be her funeral. While my mother and I said goodbye to my gentle but strict great-grandmother, I made a vow to her, "Grandma, I'll become a visiting caregiver who can speak English."

Sixteen years ago, they say I was born in the midst of disappointed looks and dejected voices around me that said, "A girl? We don't need a girl." My mother, who lost her place to stay in the midst of these cold looks, took me and returned home where my grandmother and great-grandmother lived. Life together began for four people of four generations, all women.

My great-grandmother was a very strict person, and she always said, "People who cannot arrange their own shoes cannot do anything well." She was very careful about daily things such as how to hold a tea cup, how to sit straight, and how to dress. When I heard stories of her wartime experiences such as my great-grandfather working as an interpreter in Burma and dying in battle, I also had the dream of becoming an interpreter when I grew up.

However, when my grandmother died eight years ago, my great-grandmother lost her will to live. Her eyesight worsened, and her walking also became difficult. Everyday my mother worked and looked after my great-grandmother while saying, "You must smile even when it is sad, painful, or hard and you become tired of living." Then my great-grandmother began to be able to walk by herself a little bit. Seeing my mother, I began to think, "I would like to help out people in my work by caring for them." When I was in the third year of junior high school, my great-grandmother who turned 98 had difficulties eating, taking a bath, and going to the toilet alone, and she needed to wear diapers.

"It must be hard that you cannot take care of yourself," I would say to my grandmother, always keeping in mind to smile to her. When I said to my great-grandmother, "Grandma, I want to be able to speak English like my great-grandfather and to become a caregiver to help people," she appeared happy as she nodded and smiled at me. When we laughed together, it felt like the hardships and sadness would go away a little.

A person named Fletcher said, "A smile brings rest to the weary, cheer to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and it is nature's best antidote for trouble." At those times a smile is medicine for the heart.

Now as Japan's population ages, many facilities such as senior citizens' homes and nursing care centers are being built. However, on the other hand, the number of elderly people living alone is increasing. There are various reasons for this such as children who refuse to provide care, elderly who have no children, and old people who want to live alone. There are also people who want to keep connections with many people in an area where they can live on their own rather than be in some splendid facility. There are also people who say "thank you for taking care of me at home" when they get care and die at home.

Since each person has a different way of thinking, I think it best to utilize methods of care according to a person's wishes. This should not only be done for Japanese people but also in the same way for foreigners living in the area. I believe that in the future we will have a society where we as fellow human beings support each other as we reconfirm respect for the life of each person.

Now I am taking English conversation lessons as I aim to be a visiting caregiver who can speak English so I can realize at the same time my first dream of being an interpreter and my next dream of being a visiting caregiver. As a high school student taking a social welfare program, I still have a long way to go, but I want to realize this dream in the future. With the goal of being a smiling caregiver, I want to go forward each day without regrets by being strong and kind as I consider the importance of life. For me, who will be choosing my work by considering the lives of others, there is power in a smile.

Translated by Bill Gordon
December 2005