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Grieving with Japan

Four days since the earthquake and tsunami completely overtook northern Japan, and the news is becoming more and more horrific. On a global level this is such a monstrous tragedy  and I am but one or the billions of people around the world who are watching CNN and other news programs with mounting shock and disbelief.

For me, there's a personal grieving as well. I have a very dear friend named Mika who lives in Japan with her beautiful family. Mika and I have known each other since 2005, and we have become very close through our emails and our weekly chats on Yahoo Messenger. Although we have not yet met in person (we plan to ‘meet’ next year), we already know each other on an intimately deep level because we have shared so much about our lives over the years – I know about her daily struggles and joys, as well as her deepest thoughts and feelings about life -- and she knows these things about me. We have often expressed our amazement to each other about how we could feel so close when we live on opposite sides of the planet and have never met – but we do – and I am very grateful to have Mika in my life. I consider her one of my best friends and I think of her often.

Very soon after the earthquake happened, Mika emailed me to tell me about it. Then she told me about the tsunami, and about the despair she was feeling. For a short time, I was very worried about her and her family, not knowing enough about the geography of Japan and hoping they were all right.

I later learned that they were in no physical danger. But, although Mika lives quite far away from the epicenter and was not directly affected, she has a close friend who lives in on the coast of Kesennuma, which is quite close to Sendai and among the many towns where the disastrous tsunami struck. Needless to say, Mika was devastated – she had heard from her friend the night it happened and had felt some relief, but gigantic fires have now broken out in Kesennuma as a result of the tsunami. As we chatted last night, Mika told me how very worried she is – she has not heard from Mamiko again.

Of course, my Mika is one among millions around the world who are waiting for news of their loved ones. If we think about it, for every one person who was directly affected, there are a great many people who are still hopeful or who are already grieving.

And now, with the added reality of nuclear fallout, it is virtually inconceivable to fathom the fear and pain and suffering going on in Japan right now. We also know that all of this is already impacting our planet as a whole, as we watch the stock market reflect our global fear – and there is no way of knowing how many people will be affected by nuclear contamination – how far can that travel? we ask ourselves – will it go as far as Tokyo, or farther yet?

As all of this unfolds, I am amazed at the power of our life force as human beings. We just know we have to go on, no matter what – it is part of the fiber that we are made up of. I see the lines of people in Sendai who are homeless and literally ‘out in the cold’, who are waiting for food and water, who are facing more and more life-threatening affects (including horribly frightening aftershocks that feel like more earthquakes to them), who are in such devastating despair because they watched the people they loved – including their children – be pulled from the rubble of the quake or swept away by the treacherous tsunami…

And I can’t help but wonder how they go on, how they can cope with such incomprehensible burdens. My heart goes out to them over and over and over again as my own tears fall.

I am feeling profoundly sad and terribly powerless today. I wish there were something I could do, some way to help. Yes, I’ve donated to the Red Cross and yes, I am sending my prayers to Mika and her family, to Mamiko and her loved ones, and to all those affected by this horrific reality. And if I’m feeling this way, halfway across the world, I can only imagine what the Japanese people are feeling right now.

When catastrophic things like this happen, we all feel terribly helpless and wonder what we can and should do. The truth is that, in these kinds of situations, all we can really do is accept our powerlessness – perhaps one of our most difficult tasks as humans. We can validate our own feelings and share them with others, as I am doing with all of you right now, to help us know that we are not alone in what we are experiencing. We can watch, wait, and give our support as best we can. And if we begin to feel utterly overwhelmed by this tragedy, and/or others taking place on our planet right now, we may need to turn off our TVs and radios for a while and reach out for extra support.

So I will strive to accept my powerlessness today – even though I don’t like it – and remind myself that there is really nothing more I can do except to watch, and wait, and be there to support my dear Mika in her time of grief. Maybe that is all we can ever do in situations like these.

I just received this email from Mika saying “It's late but I was checking news and found nuclear reactor looks getting worse... we thought the sea water would work to make those sticks cool down. But they failed. But I wanted you to know that my family and I will be safe, even if they start melting. I'm so afraid for it to start melting but people are evacuated far enough... Hope crews can make it cool enough soon.”


If any of you feel you can donate to the Red Cross, I hope you will. And if not, please send your thoughts and prayers to the people who need it the most today. On behalf of Mika and Mamiko, and everyone else who is needing our help right this very second, I thank you.

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