How We Wait in Japan

As of this morning the current death toll for the earthquake and tsunami in Japan is confirmed at 7,197 with those unaccounted for at just under 11,000. There is a channel on television that is dedicated to listing and reading off the names of those in shelters to expedite the on-going search for loved ones. That endless stream of names is a constant reminder of the intensity with which some must monitor to see names of yet unaccounted for friends and family. I can’t imagine the inevitable horror of hope waning as the days march on.

Rocky Coast in Izu, Japan

Time is arbitrary. For those working their way through the rubble or the workers desperately trying to gain control over the power plant, the hours race by. Still others wait painstakingly in drafty gymnasiums, hungry and cold without adequate food. We all wait on edge for news about the nuclear power-plant.

Over the past 24 hours workers at the Fukushima power plant have managed to reconnect and restart the cooling pumps to #5, and #6 reactors. The fight against the clock to keep water temperatures below boiling on those reactors has been reversed. The effects of “Hyper Rescue” firefighting units from Tokyo have become clearer as radiation levels have dropped significantly in reactors #3 and #4. While the fate on #1 and #2 is not clear and situation far from resolved, at great personal risk, heroic actions have been able to effectively reverse much of the looming nuclear threat.

My wife, Asako, and I wait in slightly different ways. She generally gravitates to the stories of goodwill such as the bicycle shop owner whose house was destroyed and is still missing his family but begins voluntarily servicing bicycles so that food, water and clothing can be distributed efficiently. Asako also shared with me the heart wrenching story of the young widow left with a 2 year old and 5 month old who found the ring her husband had bought her for White Day (March 14th- click) when she went back to their house to find clean clothes for him to be be buried in. Even though he never had the chance to give her the gift, there is some sense of completion in knowing she wears it now.

I wait by, periodically but not constantly, needing information about the power plant as the most immediate threat to our safety. I have grown to realize how unhelpful sensationalized news is for those who actually need information and appreciate the dry but factual information disseminated by Japanese media or such sites as the International Atomic Energy Agency website (click). It isn’t helpful to be held captive, clinging to threads of recycled outdated information and speculation, by the major news networks.

As a couple, our different approaches to the wait benefit us in complementary ways. From Asako, our home is infused with both an awareness of the depth of the tragedy and a sense of hope drawn from how those most deeply impacted are able to rise and respond. In this way Asako’s focus helps preserve the healthy soul of our family that enables us to advance and see the future. My priority is to define the current problem and isolate the variables so that we are able to wait in the presence of a known adversary. A malfunctioning nuclear power plant has been incredibly frightening but at the same time, knowing where hope lay in the strategies for fixing it or in our actual radiation exposure in Yokohama (far less than an international airplane flight) has contributed to our sense of control and frees us from panic and unnecessary worry.

In tragic times, it is useful to wait in different ways. Rather than paste ourselves to the international news or following the endless stream of hashtagged misinformation on Twitter, we have found that by organically following that which we desire to know and mindfully avoiding that which feels unhelpful, we have been able to find solace in Japan. – AC

Such is the way of the world
You can never know
Just where to put all your faith
And how will it grow

Gonna rise up
Burning back holes in dark memories
Gonna rise up
Turning mistakes into gold

Such is the passage of time
Too fast to fold
And suddenly swallowed by signs
Low and behold

Gonna rise up
Find my direction magnetically
Gonna rise up
Throw down my ace in the hole

from the Into the Wild – Rise by Eddie Vedder