Ever since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan I've been trying to write about it. Initially I was too immersed in the images on CNN to write - the flooding waves carrying cars and houses, and, of course, bodies. Then there were the stories from the nuclear power plants and the palpable fear that seemed to envelope everyone. After a few days I sat down to write but found I couldn't because there was just too much, and because just thinking about it made my heart hurt. I couldn't find the words to use. I couldn't even find the words to describe my emotions. I admit it - I ran away, both in the physical sense of avoiding reading or watching, and in the emotional sense of just not wanting to think about it. I am, I freely acknowledge, a coward.
This week, though, my husband brought home a copy of the Vancouver Sun that he acquired on his recent trip. I took it with me to a local coffee shop to read while I enjoyed my latte on a leisurely Friday morning. There was a special section on Japan, and, after taking a deep breath, I dove into what I knew may be treacherous waters.
The initial stories didn't trouble me - stories of the nuclear power plant, while poignant, were more about the efforts to contain the reaction. But then, on the next page, was the story that stopped me in my tracks. There is an elementary school in Ishinomaki that was in the path of the tsunami. The school was spared, but the area surrounding it was not. The tsunami hit just as parents were beginning to arrive to collect their children. Some parents made it. Some did not - and thirty schoolchildren now sit in this school, waiting patiently for their parents to arrive. And that is exactly the point where my heart cracked, my friends, and I began to weep in full view of everyone in the coffee shop.
For several years I drove my daughter to school, and picked her up every day when the bell rang. I was almost always on time, and usually early - but I remember her panic on those very few occasions when I was late. She would worry that I had forgotten or been in an accident. She seemed close to tears when I finally arrived, full of apologies and reasons for my delay. Arrive I always did, though, and everything was fine. That isn't going to happen for those thirty children in Japan.
The story of those thirty children broke the dam of my own attempts at distance. I wept for all those who had lost loved ones in Japan. I wept for a world that would never be the same for them, and I wept for my own inability to do anything in the face of such a disaster. I wept for thirty children who know by now that their parents will never arrive. I wept because I know that only death would keep me from my daughter. I simply sat and wept for all of them, and all of us.