I wasn’t going to say anything about the tragedy in Japan, because it’s annoying how people make it about themselves, from a mommy blogger telling you how she spent three months in Hon-Atsugi to Diane Rehm talking about how the earthquake and tsumani will affect the American economy. Amid the horror and the sorrow for the people who’ve lost their lives or families or homes or livelihoods, there’s a good bit of survivor’s guilt and worry about what could be next, how could this affect us, what can we possibly do to make a difference in the wide world of hurt (besides committing at least 10 percent of our income permanently, as Peter Singer suggests).
It would be really easy to wonder what God’s plan is in all this, and why I’ve been so lucky even though I was in Manhattan on 9/11, and in Cairo in 2003 at the beginning of the current Iraq war and in Florida during the horrible hurricanes. Is there another shoe about to drop? The shoe that is already on the ground is devastating enough to the people immediately affected. Why them? Why not me? What should I do?
In some ways I’m grateful to be a full-time caregiver in these times of natural or man-made disaster. In times of peace and prosperity (which, granted, if I urgently cared about what’s going on in Darfur or Sierra Leone or a hundred other places at any given time, would be never, but) it’s tempting to daydream about what occupation or schooling I’d like to pursue outside of caring for these four girls and my husband.
When disaster strikes and you read about people losing children, it’s nice to be both physically occupied by the mundane emergencies children generate hourly and emotionally certain that what I am doing matters, that even if you reduce my current life’s work to a title like “nanny,” I am doing something real, something that has to be done, something that is laying the foundation for how four human beings will interact with that hurt, broken outside world for the rest of their lives.
So for them, and for what it’s worth, here is my Testimony on the Worthiness of the Japanese People and Prayer for Their Comfort.
Tom and I flew into Narita in June of 1999, after graduating from BYU in English. We had been married for a year, and this was our big break from the lovely shelter of Provo, Utah. I know, it’s sounding all about us so far, and it gets worse — we were there on the Imperialist Mission of Teaching Conversational English. But Japan was lovely, clean and orderly and safe. And the people were so helpful and friendly and determined to win the game of Reciprocation for the Slightest Courtesy. We watched the best fireworks over Yokohama Harbor and ate delicious sushi (at least they told me it was delicious) after an Aikido Exhibition and were glad the trains were so reliable after our British coworker spent all night on them sloshed.
Someone told us that the little police box in the park saw the most action when parents were teaching their kids honesty by having them return 100 yen notes found on the ground. And even though the doctor wouldn’t come within five feet of me when I had the mysterious elephant-woman disease (in his defense, my full-facial allergic reaction looked like leprosy), our interpreter Hiro bravely stayed by my side.
In the middle of one night we got a call saying Tom had been accepted to Columbia and we made plans for New York City in the fall. Later I would joke to my family that Harlem was much more of a culture shock than even Shinjuku.
The bottom line is, because I’ve been there, because an old friend from high school got to say on Facebook that his parents and family in Sendai are okay, I feel like maybe it could be true that for this instant We Are All Japanese, or that at least we can pray will full purpose of heart and concentration of mind in this moment that God would bless the people in Japan, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and make tomorrow better.