Living into the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami

Photo by Mike Baird. Source: Wikimedia Commons

There are no words for this, and so I go to Lost Lagoon this evening and walk slowly in the soft rain, imagining my friend Yuri walking beside me. She lives outside Tokyo and writes that she and her family are safe. But that was yesterday. And what can any of us possibly mean by “safe”?

I walk along the muddy path, fully aware that at any moment, I might be betrayed by the ground under my feet or the water I walk beside.

I cannot shake the images on the news websites of boats pushed ashore, lying on their sides and houses sucked off the land, floating in the sea.

What kind of nightmare is this? And what can it possibly mean?

I have no idea.

And so I imagine my friend Yuri at my side and go on walking until gradually some of the tension leaves my shoulders and I begin to feel the welling up of grief.

I keep on walking; it’s as simple as that. Geese stand motionless for a moment and then go back to their feeding. I seem to be watching them for a sign of danger, but today there is none.

A friend back East wishes all the media would stop for 28 minutes and play soothing music. “We cannot take all this in,” he says. “It’s too much.” 

“This is the Hour of Lead—/Remembered, if outlived”*

Two summers ago, Yuri and I took this same walk on a bright afternoon, in contented silence. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a Great Blue Heron standing perfectly still. She stopped, pointed, and said: “That is us.”

At the time, I knew what she meant, though this evening, my mind goes blank.

It’s not what happens, but how we respond that’s important, but tonight that thought gives little comfort. 

On the way home, I stop in at the corner store to buy blueberries for tomorrow’s breakfast. That there are blueberries to buy seems unjust, somehow, when entire villages on the Japanese coast have disappeared.

There is a small TV behind the counter. The shopkeeper and I watch footage of a Canadian mother holding her son who just got off a plane from Japan. Then we look at each other for a long moment. As if he senses my question, he says, “We pray,” and then hands me my blueberries.

But how? And for what?

I realize I am angry at God.

And so for me, now, there is nothing but this terrible silence.

And waiting.


*Emily Dickinson, "After great pain a formal feeling comes"


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