While reading about the horrible earthquake/tsunami that recently occurred in Japan, I couldn’t help but think back to that immortal opening line from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. For the Japanese people have shown themselves to be able to come together and help their fellow citizens in the wake of extreme devastation with a generosity and spirit that is a joy to behold. Meanwhile, the people who have been subjected to untold loss, both material and personal, have carried on with a resolute forbearance that is beyond impressive. Though my words are nothing in the face of such a natural disaster, I still feel obliged to let my voice be heard in praise of a proud people who are rising to the challenge laid by nature before them.
Much has been written and commented upon concerning the quake and resultant tsunami, the damage it caused, the plight of the people near the nuclear power plants which were affected, and the lack of forthrightness from the government bureaucracies involved. I don’t want to comment about any of those, since enough has been written already. What I want to talk about is how the people themselves have handled their plight.
Many have been forced to live in local schools where their personal space is severely limited. Have they complained? No, they’ve staked out their own quarters, blanketed it off, spruced up the appearance and made a small home out of an impersonal shelter. Impromptu radio stations have been created to broadcast news and report missing persons so if they are safe, they can get in touch with their loved ones. Looting? Not a chance. Where the government has been slow to respond, the people have filled in the cracks by using their ingenuity, talent and perseverance. The true heroes in any emergency usually go unreported, as their heroics are small acts of kindness, inventiveness and personal bravery that typically go unsung.
How has the rest of Japan responded? I have been incredibly impressed to see them rally around their fellow countrymen, organize donations, work with the Japanese Red Cross (the preferred organization from what I’ve heard), businesses have matched donated funds with their own, athletes have pledged their winnings to the victims so they can rebuild, the people have come together in the spirit of togetherness and patriotism, not in its base sense but in the realization that all must pull together or all will be lost.
My wife’s cousin’s brother is a professor at Tohoku University in Sendai. Fortunately, he was unaffected by the tsunami and the damage where he was ended up being light. I know other Japanese whose families in that area were unaffected excepting the tremendous rumbling of the quake itself. But I also have a friend who contacted another friend and found out that her father’s side of the family was wiped out by the tsunami with no apparent survivors.
Disaster is unpredictable. It can strike with devastating effect in one place while sparing lives across the street. The havoc wreaked by the tsunami was something I’ve never seen in my lifetime, a wall of water that took out most everything in its path. It’ll take years and possibly decades to recover and rebuild, but from what I’ve seen so far, the people in that area are up to the challenge. I just hope the Japanese government and especially the bureaucracies involved are as resolute as the people themselves.
As Dickens once wrote, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. It was the worst natural disaster in my memory but beyond the horror, it is the best of times when I look at the people who, when punched in the face by causes beyond their control, got right back up again with the determination to recover, rebuild and rehabilitate.
If you are interested in helping the people there, you can donate to the American Red Cross and they’ll make sure your contribution gets to the proper people in Japan.