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.
I have “acquaintances” who listen to and only listen to a certain cable ‘news’ station, go to gun shows/shooting ranges on Saturday and a ‘church’ on Sunday. I have copied many of your thoughts, including the one above and I asked them to be given to out at their church. They. the posts, have all torn at my heart. Am I proselytizing by softening one’s heart? Perhaps so. I have reprinted the collection and made many copies and asked them to share with their ‘church’ members. I, we, can only hope that the words reach one person, I thank both of you for giving us a glimpse into yours and others the terrible difficulties that the you and all of people of Japan are suffering though at this time.
Some may call them prayers, some may call them thought and some may say I will light a candle.
Wow, bito, thank you! As I cross pollinate your message with what Kes writes below, I see that what is happening in Japan has the power to raise consciousness and increase compassion in the U.S. They say that was one of the most powerful earthquakes ever, and the force of the tsunami certainly attests to that. So perhaps that power can manifest in positive ways, not just destructive ways. Again, thank you.
‘A’ has posted a new letter. It is lengthy, so I reprint only the parts that I feel Planeteers will find most interesting.
“Besides news of the developments of the nuclear power plant meltdown, TV shows now focus on stories of individuals. Some show families still seeking for lost ones. Others are about returning to where homes and work places once stood. Some are about family members reuniting after believing all had died.
One group of people found themselves stranded with no way to get to a shelter. So, they banded together and made their own community. They collected wood from broken houses to make fires. They rummaged through rubble to find packets of food. And since one member was a hairdresser, who miraculously found her scissors, everyone was able to get a nice trim haircut. Simple pleasures, immense joys.
Today I was able to look at Internet news about things other than what is going on in Japan. I had not been able to do so before. I heard how tenuous things are in the Middle East, even more so than before. And I felt sickened. This situation in Japan is very, very difficult, pulling most of us down to the very core of our being. It is peeling away any excess and bringing us to our knees, where we are forced to live from a place of complete honesty. Yet war is far worse. Here in Japan we have a sense of trust. We have each other. We are all working as a unit to get through this. And we will all work together to build a better future. We have hope.
As I continue to pray and work for Japan, I also pray that the world will wake up. All of us. During this time of great intensity and focus, the Japanese are manifesting the best that humanity can be. Surely the rest of us can do the same.”
There’s no way that could have been better expressed, WTS. Perfection.
I think this situation has affected Americans on a personal level, even in small ways. Yesterday I stopped at a service station to get gas for the car. When I went inside to pay there was a young clerk who was obviously very new to the job. There were about half a dozen people in line, waiting to make purchases and he was having trouble getting the cash register to operate.
He was visibly stressed — literally sweating — and obviously terrified that the customers were going to start yelling at him, that he might be fired, etc. (Fears pretty typical in America about now.) He kept apologizing to all the people in line.
But people didn’t get upset. “It’s okay.” “Not your fault!” A few people called out. I added: “People in Japan are going through much worse right now,” to which a number of people added: “Yes!!”
You could see the poor kid relax. The problem was solved, and everyone went away feeling the better for the episode.
A tiny incident, but a blessing. Ripple effects can go very far sometimes.
Kes– that made my day, and I wasn’t even there! I truly believe in those little things–those moments of human connection– even as I often forget to do my part. I just wish we could remember that we really are all in the same boat (even if we came on different ships) and a smile or the simplest kind word can change everything.
Beautiful and uplifting story, kes. Thank you! I’ve been that kid before, many times. 🙂
Thanks to you both, WTS and Cher.
I’ve been that kid, too…and sometimes long after I could legitimately claim “kid” status. 🙂
Your friend A is quite a good writer, wts.
Indeed, she is. And she is really finding her voice amidst these circumstances. I am proud and honored to know her.
I kept meaning to come back to comment here wts, so sorry.
It is a wonderful letter of strength, selflessness and courage. I salute her for deciding to remain, and wish her all the best in everything that she hopes to do there at this difficult time in our adopted country. Your painting brought tears to my eyes, it just fit so perfectly with her written words. Kudos to her and her spirit, I will keep her in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for sharing, and thank her too for giving us all hope in human kindness.
And Thank You, Kalima, for the message of another ‘A’, the one in Afghanistan you posted the blog about. A for Angel, both of them!
My friend just sent another letter just now. I’ll read it and post it here.
Thanks for the kind words about my painting. It’s pretty old, I was just looking for something appropriate and this one seemed to say “soldiering on” better than anything else I could find.
WTS thanks for sharing your friend’s truly enlightening experiences with us.
Thanks, KQ, and everyone. Here’s an article from TIME from a long time expat journalist talking about the expat “exodus”
This is from another friend, a tireless volunteer for Animal Rescue Kansai (ARK)
GOOD NEWS FROM THE ROAD: Yesterday, we met a man at an evacuation centre in Sendai who told us a very touching story about his Akita dog, named Shane. The man is a pillar in his community and when he heard the tsunami warning he rushed to warn his neighbors after letting Shane free in the yard. After notifying his neighborhood, he tried to get back to his house to get Shane, but the tsunami was rapidly approaching and he was forced to go to the local school on higher ground. He had given up hope of ever seeing Shane alive again. But, 6 hours later, one of the people staying in the center said they saw a dog outside. The man went to look, and it was Shane!! Shane had never been to the school before, but somehow, his instincts lead him there. The dog swam through chest-high water before being reunited with his guardian. The man took us to Shane, who was staying at his house several blocks from the school (the water had receded of course). Shane must have hung onto debris, as he cut both his elbows on something. We instructed the guardian on how to clean his wounds and gave him some ointment to ward off infection. We were able to leave fuel with the local veterinarian, so he will return to check on Shane and provide him with antibiotics to ensure his wounds heal.
To be able to resonate between the states of being a single person and a member of a collective is an art that A. has put to use. The better existence is usually the more expansive one. As individuals, disasters can make us feel small but we prevail when we merge. A. will be truly living. She will be in good company.
Yes, Q, that’s it exactly. She is living not reactively, but proactively, and fully consciously. And deeper depths of her being and character are being brought to light now. It is an honor to know her and also an honor to be able to share her with everyone here.
Many thanks to everyone who had read and commented both here and on the MB. And special thanks to Adlib who is enabling me to overcome a nettlesome glitch that disables me from posting on my own.
It has been inspiring for me to read A’s words. I think there is a profound wisdom speaking through them, as if the Spirit that is guiding her day to day choices is also placing its imprint in the words, so that the communication is not merely verbal. At least that is how I see it.
I have sent the link to A. I don’t know how often she can check her computer, but she will know that she is touching people all over the world when she does.
Once again, thanks.
Thank you for sharing that! And I’m glad you’re okay, too, WTS. Take care.
Critter! It is always such a pleasure to find you here.
Hi, fellow mustelid! I’m a critter of habit, and of my comfort zone. I will try to get over more often. You are all good folks here! Come say hello sometime over at Jack’s site, too. Folks would be happy to see you- any and all of you!
MsB, I’m afraid I don’t know that site. If anybody remembers ol’ whatsthatsound from HP, tell them I’m okay, please.
I will. It’s Jackhole’s Realm. We have a lot of fun. Pepe and Haruko, Adonai, and others pop in all the time. Come over! It’s jackholesrealm.wordpress.com Just come to the top thread from the home page. Hope to see you!
msb! Where the hell have you been?
Um- see below? I’ve been off HP almost exclusively since Thanksgiving. I went back at New Year’s and left again. Bad stuff was happening, some of it aimed at me. I’m hanging out at Jack’s now. Come over!!! Look below at my reply to WTS. Hugs!
Will do msb. I just couldn’t take the censorship any longer at HP. It’s so nice to be able to express one’s self freely.
WTS, thank you for sharing such an inspiring letter, her self-awareness and courage to face whatever may happen will bring her through this and at then end of this trial, she will be stronger.
Sometimes we must go through darkness in order to see the light…
For the people of Japan;
Such beauty and sadness.
That really is a lovely piece, KT. Thank you.
My pleasure kes.
wts, thank you for this post. It is just wonderful. So many people find it so difficult to explain or define spirituality, including myself, at times.
What you’ve written here, and the decision you have reached, is so perfect an example of spirituality, I am in awe. I will most definitely save this post and refer to it often. This is what I think it means when I refer to, “living deliberately.” As the Buddhists say, “Take joyful participation in the suffering of the world.”
Thank you, KT. The words come from a friend of mine who lives in Sendai, the major city that was devastated the most. I can only take pride in having such a wise and eloquent friend.
DUH! I just realized that. I should have read more carefully. But again, thanks for posting this.
What a wonderful post and what a beautiful picture!
Deep down inside, I knew human beings could live and prosper while maintaining respect for one another.
Thank you, Japan, for illustrating exactly that.
I rode out hurricanes in New Orleans (not Katrina) but having a baby changes everything. Before my kid, I would have stay. Post-child, I would run for the hills.
Sadly, I’m not sure I could be that strong..
I’m pretty sure that I could not. Another friend of mine just headed NORTH, toward the radiation, to help rescue abandoned animals. And meanwhile I’m just basically keeping from falling apart mentally and emotionally. Humbling to say the least.
A beautifully written, well thought-out presentation of truly dispassionate — and at the same time compassionate — decision-making. I totally respect your friend’s choice, wts, and the reasons she made that choice.
On the other hand, I respect the choices made by people who opted to leave the country, too. Your friend mentions her age and it appears that she doesn’t have younger children, and I know that those elements were factored in to her choice. Which is only right. But I suspect that people with kids who are more in harm’s way, than, say Tokyo is right now, feel if they’re going to err it must be on the side of caution. And I get that, too
I think it all boils down to the fact that everyone must do as your wonderful friend did — consult trusted advisers, think long and hard about — not only what is advantageous to oneself, but to others as well — and then decide.
It surely cannot have been easy for anyone who decided either way. Such terrible choices times like this force upon people…
Thank you again for posting such beauty in the middle of such a storm, WTS. The illustration is as lovely as the article.
Kes, you wrote what I was thinking as I read the letter…as a mother of a young child, my first priority would be to keep him safe and my second priority, for him, would be to keep myself safe.
That said, I was moved by a report I heard earlier today on NPR. Japenese culture has a sort of selfless cohesion that Americans, I fear, cannot begin to imagine, hense wts’s friend’s appeal to community effort as her adopted/shared identity of norms and values.
Very nice piece.
Japanese culture is amazing, isn’t it, Redemption?
And during the whole period of the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Egypt, I remember thinking the same thing about the Egyptian people who were risking their lives for a better future. They were so impressive, so altruistic.
We’re so used to comfort in America. It’s becoming harder and harder to discern causes for which people would willingly sacrifice “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor,” no?
But I also completely understand why parents, like you, of young children would make it their first priority to ensure the safety of the next generation. That’s what all the rest of the sacrifice is all about.
Kes and WTS – This IS a remarkable woman, and her decision to stay, to be rational and not panicked into a choice is both selfless and sane.
I agree kes that where you are on the journey of life does matter greatly. If you have children – who are far more vulnerable to radiation than adults – leaving is probably essential for their long-term health. As an older person, the risk is vastly lower.
Once the personal risks are assessed – because one has the right to risk oneself but NOT to risk others – then the capacity to provide help and then to do so is a major factor in this decision.
I’ve been struck by reports from the epicenter about people finding ways collectively to support and sustain themselves. They have returned to barter. They have agreed to self discipline on food rationing. They are patient with the situation and themselves.
What is the moral decision for those who have options? Stay or go? Rabbi Sofer’s quotation, “No woman is required to build the world at the sacrifice of her life” offers us a choice. We are not wrong to care about our own safety but can deny it in the interest of the greater good. It is something people need to weigh and balance, but the issue repeatedly in this county is that people ARE making that deliberation.
The screeching turn to the Right that has placed hyper individualism ahead of any other consideration is being challenged over and over by these graceful acts of moral deliberation. Hillel the Elder asked, “If I am not for me who will be? If I am for myself alone, what am I?” More and more we are seeing people move back to the balance of self and others, of connection, of sacrifice for the greater good.
WTS – your friend has offered us not just one person’s journey through chaos and calamity but a thoughtful guide on the balance of life’s choices. Her deliberations are truly inspiring, and we thank you for letting us witness what she has gone through getting to where she is. It is deeply moving to read her words. Thank you, and when you get back to her, please let her know she has touched so many of us deeply.
Thank you, c’lady.
I guess my take on it is that the next generation is what all the decision-making everywhere is ultimately about — both for parents and non-parents, for those who decide to leave and those who decide to stay, for those who are risk-taking activists and those who stay home and nurture.
We all have our place to fit in to, and to be as deliberative and thoughtful as this woman was in deciding what that place is, is the sign of a real human being, no?
Kes and c-lady, thank you. C-lady, that was why I felt that this should run as a separate article, because she so eloquently discusses the human gift of choice, and explains how it ultimately comes from her inner wisdom. This is to me a profoundly spiritual piece of writing, and I will let her know that she is touching a lot of lives with it. I feel it as an honor and even kind of duty to help her spread her messages of thoughtful, everyday wisdom.
And Kes, I most certainly agree. My daughter Mika was only eight months old when we had to flee our apartment amidst the Oakland Hills fire, and she was foremost on our minds during the entire aftermath of that. It is poignant that her life of twenty years has to date been bookmarked by such enormous tragedies.
Mika has you to keep her safe and to rely on, WTS.
That makes all the difference.
You and she may have lost a lot. But you still have your ability to love.
Thanks, Kes. We’ve lost a lot and gained a lot.
When one looks at oneself, and ones loved ones, in trying circumstances, one doesn’t always like what one sees. Along with heroic and wise moments there are freakouts and words said in haste. But it is all part of revealing ourselves to ourselves. Poking the oyster to get pearls, I guess.
Humanity is all its beauty, its darker moments, its messiness, its nobility, WTS.
We’re all so much more alike than we are different.
Everything is thrown into relief in a crisis.
Afterward, in the ensuing relative calm, there will be plenty of time to sort through the shells and the pearls… Life, no?