Tuesday, March 15, 2011

After the Quake...

I was going to post soemthing funny today - some anecdotes I've been thinking of, but somehow it didn't seem right. It didn't seem like the time for humor. My mind has been thinking about something else.

For several years now I have taught Haruki Murakami's wonderful collection of linked stories, "After the Quake." The stories all in some way connect back to the Kobe earthquake without exactly evoking it or calling it by name. It is an elegant, thoughtful collection, but one that has also given me pause in the wake of the events of the past week. The 8.9 earthquake, the tsunami, and now, the nuclear meltdown.

It is, as my friend Russell Bank noted on FB today, as if the world we live in has come to resemble Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." I find Japan to be in a darkness we can hardly imagine. To have everything taken from you in seconds. To have 10,000 people literally washed away. To be afraid of the very air you breathe.

In 1993 I traveled to Japan. We stayed in a ryokan in Kyoto. Traveled up to Hokkeido and also went to Hiroshima. I went with a friend who was what is called a hibakshu - a survivor of Hiroshima. As we stood on the Peace Bridge, he told me what he'd seen the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He had a strange, nervous laugh as he desccribes things that no one should ever have to see.

My friend, Mr. Tobita-san, a wonderful translator, is now gone. He suffered, as many survivors did, from a cancer that found him late in his life.

A neighbor called me this morning about something else, then mentioned that her sister was on her way to Japan for a long-planned holiday. My first words were to tell her sister not to go. How can anyone have a holiday amidst so much suffering.

A number of years ago I had been asked by the NYTimes to write a piece about the Big Island of Hawaii. I was thrilled by the assignment and spent several weeks, planning my itinerary, booking at some amazing B&Bs. And then just days before I was to leave 9/11 happened. My Hawaii trip was over a week away but I knew I wouldn't go. I knew I couldn't go.

There are times to travel and have fun, seeing the world. And there are other times when we just have to stop and think about what all of this means. I always loved that old 60th song (was it Joan Baez or Dylan who wrote it). "There but for fortune." Really we just dodged this bullet. It could happen to any of us. Anywhere. Anytime.

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