Out there in the world

It’s spring, but the temperatures outside are those of winter.  One stays inside and reads the news, but the world’s events are too staggering to take in completely.  Foreign governments firing upon their own people, U.S. and NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan and Libya, natural and nuclear disaster in Japan, the loss of Elizabeth Taylor, the weeks of protests outside capitol buildings where governors and state senators propose slashing the rights of public workers in Wisconsin and Ohio and throughout the nation.

It’s difficult to see it all.  There’s too much at once.  And so one focuses in on one event at a time, at each day, as more events are unveiled.  Thoughts direct themselves outward, across the Pacific toward Japan, to the people of Sendai and surrounding cities that experienced the fatal throes and devastation of earthquake and tsunami and that now face the threat of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.  Overwhelmed and without words, I look to others who more readily contemplate the realities of life there—the friend, the writer, the Katrina survivor, and The New Yorker.

A letter from Sendai, Japan - from Anne

March 15, 2011

Anne writes: "Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am 

very blessed to have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since 

my shack is even more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a 

friend's home. We share supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. 

We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is 

warm, friendly, and beautiful. During the day we help each other clean 

up the mess in our homes. People sit in their cars, looking at news on 

their navigation screens, or line up to get drinking water when a source 

is open. If someone has water running in their home, they put out a sign 

so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets. It's utterly 

amazing that where I am there has been no looting, no pushing in 

lines. People leave their front door open, as it is safer when an 

earthquake strikes. People keep saying, "Oh, this is how it used to be 

in the old days when everyone helped one another." Quakes keep coming. 

Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens are constant and 

helicopters pass overhead often. We got water for a few hours in our 

homes last night, and now it is for half a day. Electricity came on this 

afternoon. Gas has not yet come on. But all of this is by area. Some

people have these things, others do not. No one has washed for several 

days. We feel grubby, but there are so much more important concerns than 

that for us now. I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living 

fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is 

needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire group. There are 

strange parallel universes happening. Houses a mess in some places, yet 

then a house with futons or laundry out drying in the sun. People lining 

up for water and food, and yet a few people out walking their dogs. All 

happening at the same time. Other unexpected touches of beauty are 

first, the silence at night. No cars. No one out on the streets. And the 

heavens at night are scattered with stars. I usually can see about two, 

but now the whole sky is filled. The mountains are Sendai are solid and 

with the crisp air we can see them silhouetted against the sky 

magnificently. And the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back 

to my shack to check on it each day, now to send this e-mail since the 

electricity is on, and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I 

have no idea from whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from 

door to door checking to see if everyone is OK. People talk to complete 

strangers asking if they need help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, 

yes, but fear or panic, no. They tell us we can expect aftershocks, and 

even other major quakes, for another month or more. And we are getting 

constant tremors, rolls, shaking, rumbling. I am blessed in that I live 

in a part of Sendai that is a bit elevated, a bit more solid than other 

parts. So, so far this area is better off than others. Last night my 

friend's husband came in from the country, bringing food and water. 

Blessed again. Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience 

that there is indeed an enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is 

occurring all over the world right at this moment. And somehow as I 

experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart 

opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt so small because of all 

that is happening. I don't. Rather, I feel as part of something 

happening that much larger than myself. This wave of birthing 

(worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent. Thank you again for your care 

and Love of me, With Love in return, to you all, Anne"




Kenzaburo Oe

By chance, the day before the earthquake, I wrote an article, which was published a few days later, in the morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun. The article was about a fisherman of my generation who had been exposed to radiation in 1954, during the hydrogen-bomb testing at Bikini Atoll. I first heard about him when I was nineteen. Later, he devoted his life to denouncing the myth of nuclear deterrence and the arrogance of those who advocated it. Was it a kind of sombre foreboding that led me to evoke that fisherman on the eve of the catastrophe?

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Email from New Orleans

Now should be the time of Japanese cherry blossoms rather than surreal remembrances of the film "On the Beach.”  Nuclear fears.  I’m reminded of the time after Katrina, when everything everywhere was grey and brown for months, with no lights over great stretches of the city, especially the suburbs; and the garbage pickup and mail were only now and then, fridges were a thing of the past, insulation blew into the kitchen from the hole in the roof, and very few stores were open.  But people were gathering and hugging (and eating) all over town, and Savvy Gourmet had soups and sandwiches to go and internet available - in the same pioneer spirit described in [Anne’s] loving letter.  Katrina was a tiny microcosm of the multi-tragedy in Japan, but in a more Western way that same spirit prevailed.  The Japanese people really are incredible in their stalwart dignity - models for us all.

Mary Bradley Virre – New Orleans, LA



A nation bears the unbearable.


Evan Osnos

The afternoon of Friday, March 11th, was cool and partly cloudy on the northeast coast of Japan’s main island, a serene stretch once known as the nation’s “back roads.” At 2:46 P.M., as schools were beginning to let out, the ground began to shake. It was violent even by Japan’s standards—the thundering went on for five minutes—and before long Japanese television was warning of a wave charging west across the Pacific Ocean at the speed of a jet. Kicked up from the seabed, the tsunami amplified in size and slowed in speed as it moved into the shallows beside the Japanese coastline, and by the time it touched land it was a wall of water, black and smooth. It was as tall in places as a three-story building, moving at fifty miles per hour. It flicked fishing trawlers over seawalls, crunched them against bridges. It sent fleets of cars and trucks hurtling from parking lots, and turned homes into chips of wood and tile, before heading deeper into Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures across a span of six miles. Rampaging through former farming and fishing villages, and the cosmopolitan city of Sendai, the wave slowed, but remained too fast for most people to outrun on foot.

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