Signs of hope in Sendai
Anne Thomas, 3/16/2011
Once again I want to write to you about what is happening here. The TV news is frightening beyond belief. In fact, this entire phenomenon seems totally surreal. Beyond the edges of one’s wildest imagination.
But I continue picking through the rubble of this experience to find flickers of hope and powerful experiences of beauty.
Yes, the devastation continues, as do deep concerns over the nuclear fallout. But alongside of the ongoing horrific news we have started hearing stories of a positive nature. They may be small and subtle, but they are emerging. A doctor, for example, who lost his home and clinic, went to live in an evacuee shelter. He immediately saw the tremendous medical needs there, so began treating patients to the best of his ability. A nurse came in by helicopter to offer her services. During her interview she said, “People must overcome this crisis. We cannot give up.”
Likewise a restaurant owner, who also lost his home, but not his business, opened up shop and offered hot bowls of noodle soup to evacuees for free. “We must help one another,” was his only comment.
Indeed, a friend in Tokyo wrote this to me in an e-mail. “I know that every Japanese people can exercise their best to help others in such serious circumstances and you can rely on their kindness. That is our culture. Of course, I am ready to support you anything you need, so please don’t hesitate, but let me know whatever I can support you.”
In evacuation centers there are puppet shows for children. “It’s to ease their minds,” my friend explained to me. “That is very important.” And for the Japanese one’s state of mind often carries more weight than facts. That is because we have some semblance of control over our mind, no matter what the outer circumstances may be.
In another shelter junior high school students got paper and paints and made a large bright, energetic sign that said, “To have life is profound joy.” It was hung high overhead so everyone could see it and be encouraged by the words.
On local TV stations time is allotted to read messages of people seeking family members. We comfort one another as best as we can. We still say, “Gambarimashou” (We must keep up our fighting spirit). We see shots on TV of family members reuniting, of long lines of people waiting to use free phone service to call home and friends. We see a lot of tears. But so much comfort, so much support.
The city’s basic infrastructure has collapsed, but people are working round the clock to get things back into some sort of normalcy. Water came first in big trucks. Then in some areas it was on after a day. Electricity is also slowly coming back on. Gas will not be available for another month or so because of excessive damage to the pipes. We are all dreaming of a bath, of just being able to wash a bit. But as one woman in a shelter said, “I was so cold at night, but everyone else was, too. So, that gives me courage.” In that context a bath seems so minor.
Buses have resumed on some routes. Some food shops are open for a few hours a day. I noticed a shop open with flowers for graves, for shrines and temples so that the souls of the long ago and recently deceased may have a touch of earthly beauty in heaven.
There is so much support and solidarity. I want to close with another e-mail from a friend who is a university teacher. It, too, is an excellent manifestation of the truly remarkable Japanese “kokoro” (heart and soul).
“I have been trying to find out the situations of some students and friends whom I lost contact with since the earthquake and tsunami attacked this area.
“There are still many students staying and living on campus. Some lost their houses and the others are not sure if their families are OK. When I met them, I just couldn’t find right word to cheer them up.
“Today was supposed to be a graduation day which was postponed and might be canceled. When I saw the students at the campus housing this morning, they served me a special breakfast that the juniors cooked for the seniors to celebrate the day. The meal was cold, but really special. I won’t forget the taste of it. I am convinced that my students will overcome this tragedy with the positive attitude. I intend to emulate them.”
posted by Anne Thomas on 3/16/2011 10:25 am