I have a friend in Sendai who is writing amazing things about her experience. This is the most inspiring thing I’ve read since this whole thing happened a week ago. I hope you agree.
Dear Family and Friends,
This letter is different from others I have been sending recently. It is more about me than about the remarkable Japanese people. Please forgive this side tracking and indulgence.
Yesterday I was given the chance to leave Sendai via buses arranged by the USA government for American citizens. I was told about this option well past midnight and the bus was to leave across town from where I was at around 9 a.m. If I went, I would be allowed one bag. I would be taken by bus to Narita Airport, where literally thousands of frantic foreigners were struggling to leave the country. From there I would be sent to a nearby Asian country and then left to fend for myself. I would be charged for the bus fare from Sendai to Narita later.
Several family members and almost all of my foreign friends strongly urged me to accept this option. “The chance may not come again.” “The situation is very, very critical.” “You should leave.” “You will be helping the country if you leave.” “You can always stay with me.” “You can always go back when this is over.”
I used to be really good at making clear decisions, but with age I find that I seem to take in others’ opinions more. Maybe, too, that comes from Japan’s consensus building culture. So, with so many people urging me to go, go, go, I was up half the night suffering excruciating existential agony.
After eating breakfast, I raced over to my wobbly shack to call a very close American friend in the USA to talk and process this. I also wanted to check e-mails once more. En route a deep calm came over me and I sensed I was not going to leave. My American friend agreed entirely. He had been through war and knew what mass hysteria involved. “Wait until this madness is over. Then make a calm decision,” he advised. “The situation seems black or white now, but maybe it is not.”
Talking to him, I realized I was not going to jump into the tidal wave of fear and panic that was literally sweeping the entire world. I did not want to add to that kind of energy. Whether I was right or wrong, lived or died, I knew that I wanted to be part of something that was more constructive towards life itself and the world as a whole.
I also sensed that for me personally to leave would be like a person suffering from emotional, psychology agony and trying to run away from it. I have found from personal experience that that does not work. For me I have to wrestle with and within excruciating emotional experiences, not necessarily to “get through them” because maybe we never really do, but rather to be able to consciously incorporate them into who we are.
We are physical beings, of course, but there are other dimensions of our humanity as well. And for me at this time I feel ready to work out of another level of my being.
By chance, to encourage me, among my e-mails there was one lone voice that was entirely different from all the others. It was from my Dutch “brother”, who is a doctor. This is what he said.
“Apparently the situation is such that many foreigners are moving away from Tokyo to Osaka, or even home abroad. This, to me, is not good. I would think that one would stay and see where one could be of help.”
Those open-hearted, humanitarian words rung a bell with me. I realized other people had left and would leave with their own legitimate reasons. And that is beautiful in its own way. But for me, considering how long I have been here, the number of Japanese friends I have, and my age this situation is not about saving my own skin. There is something much more profound going on. For me it is on a very deep spiritual dimension. Now, it seems, is a time to step out of a desperate rush to save myself. It is a very humbling opportunity to practice what the Japanese have been teaching me through their day-to-day behavior ever since I arrived on these shores. We are all important. We must think of ourselves as a group first and then as individuals in it. It is crucial to put others before oneself.
If I am able to truly live that perspective in this horrendous situation, and if one small layer of my enormous ego can peel away through this experience, then that, I feel, will be my way of serving others who are suffering in this unspeakably tragic time of our lives.