Friday, March 11, 2016

On This Day...

...five years ago, I was running late for work. It was the day I taught young kids at NHK. I was never particularly fond of those classes because none of the students ever seemed particularly keen to be there and I have never felt particularly comfortable teaching small children, but I had prepared puzzles and games for the day and I was just grabbing my bag and heading out the door when my phone buzzed and I checked it to find an early earthquake warning flashing...

Lots changed that day. So much was taken away from so many. We were fortunate in so many ways. In particular we were fortunate to be in a place that allowed us to help others during what could have been a pretty bleak time. Doing so helped to keep us from falling apart.

If you want to read a detailed account of what happened on that day, and the following few days, I happened to write them down here. Just scroll down past the first handful of paragraphs until you see the March 11th header and there you'll see my account of everything that happened from the 11th to the 17th. 

I'll forever thank my former self for writing down a detailed account of that time when it was still so fresh in my mind. While it was all still happening. Memory is a slippery thing, and while I will never forget that time period, I am grateful to have a more accurate account than what my brain would be able to dredge up today without that writing to aid me. 

Unfortunately, I stopped blogging about my time in Japan after that. However, I've been looking through my old e-mails and realize there's lots to mine there about my experiences. In fact the reason that I stopped blogging seems to have been the sheer volume of e-mails I was sending back home to keep folks calm in the aftermath it took up all of the time and energy that I normally would have put into the blog. 

If you'd like to know about the month or so afterwards, it could best be summed up as "endeavoring to focus on things other than the threat of dying from alpha and beta radiation blowing across our prefecture from the Fukushima reactor and working to help as many people as possible as part of that distraction." In other words, we tried to live life as normally as we could with gas rationing, milk and bread rationing, rolling blackouts to conserve energy, and a lot of extra people camped out on our living room floor for weeks on end. We did pretty well actually. A lot of our friendships were strengthened through that time, and there is a closeness between those of us who were there during that period that is wordless and enduring. 

The truth is, if you're ever going to live through a natural disaster and its after effects Japan is the best possible place for it. I was continually impressed by how everything was handled and how well everyone worked together for the greater good. It was an awesome thing to experience. (And yes, I'm using awesome in it's original and most literal sense.)

Funnily enough one of the toughest things about that whole time period was keeping all of our friends and family back home calm while we tried to resume our normal lives and push forward. Folks were understandably worried about the damage done to the Fukushima nuclear power plants, but that worry was magnified and blown out of proportion by the fear mongering of the US media. We were getting very reliable information from a number of sources (mostly the International Atomic Energy Association and a friend of mine who is a nuclear engineer), and as bad as things were, and could have gotten, nothing was ever quite as bad as the western media made it out to be. Trying to convince my parents of that, however, was a full time job.

Meanwhile, many beautiful things came from that time period. We hosted a lot of people at our place during times when lots of people didn't have power or other utilities working properly in their homes. We also got together a group of people who worked to collect supplies to send north to the towns that had been wiped out by the tsunami. This served multiple purposes. One, it sent much needed supplies to an area that was struggling to get them as the roads on the way in were severely damaged. Large organizations were finding it difficult to get in, and smaller groups like ours, that sent supplies in a caravan of smaller vans, had more success, and were able to get in earlier than larger groups. Also, since we didn't handle any money, there was no red tape to deal with. Collect supplies, deliver to Iwate. Done and done. The other purpose it served was to help all of us who felt the world fall out from under our feet to feel as though we weren't just sitting around waiting for the sky to fall too. We did something, something positive, something physical and concrete, that directly helped the people who had been hurt the most, and that made us feel like we still knew who we were and what we were doing in a time of continual uncertainty. 

The friendships we made in Japan were always going to be friendships that lasted a lifetime, but for those of us who lived through March 11th and its aftermath the bond is even greater though it's harder to describe. How do you explain the trust you feel when the world seems like it's falling apart around you and you know a group of people are there for you and always will be? I'm a writer and feel like I should be able to do it justice, but... well, it's having a home in each of those people. Wherever they are, you will be welcome and safe. Each of them is a light in the darkness. 


We will always remember.

No comments :

Post a Comment