Photo: from CNN.com
Today is March 11th, 2013. Two years ago I was granted a job in Japan. My career in diplomacy was beginning to blossom by the promising connections I was making, and the points in my life that had brought me to that place were beginning to align like ducks in a row. And then one early morning as I readied to board a flight to Seoul, I saw pictures of Yokohama on fire and one of my Japanese friends had written on facebook, “My grandmother’s house was wrecked from the waves of the tsunami. I can’t stop crying.” Suddenly we were all in limbo; I frantically tried to contact all my friends and family in Japan. Most of them live in the central portion of the island and some live even further South, so they had been spared. The earthquake had been strongest in the Northeast; and consequently the tsunami as well. One of my good friends who had gone on the same exchange program as I in high school was living and working up North and had not fared so well; her town was devastated by the disaster. Months later after I had arrived, we sat in a cafe in Shibuya and she recounted her story to me, and it seemed incredible, with so much death and destruction, no heat, no water, no electricity. She was contacted by various press sources looking for a “Story of an American girl living through the destruction,” and she said it was kind of disgusting, how they were trying to sell it on some angle. She said, “I lived through it just like everyone else did. I’m not special. I was getting by just like all the rest.”
The Great East Japanese Earthquake both is and is not my story. I was not here, I did not live through the death and destruction like my friend, or like my Japanese friends and family. I was in a 5-star hotel overlooking the city lights of Seoul on spring break with my college choir. I don’t claim it as my own, but is it possible to be so removed and so attached at once? Suddenly everything changed in a time span of 2 minutes or so. Suddenly the world took on a new shade of colors and a new sensation of unease; and I can’t get Murakami’s words out of my mind:
“And after you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. Things may look different to you than they did before.”
I was in Lisbon just months earlier listening to Fado music floating in and out of the alleyways of the Bairro Alto and I sat with a young officer who flew helicopters and I dreamed of this life that I had carved for myself up until that point. Somehow Portugal and Japan were intertwined and there was an illusion I had and at 3 A.M. on March 11th, 2011 it shattered completely. I don’t know how to explain it; I don’t know how it all fits together, but it was there and then it was changed. I don’t claim any of it as my own, only that I knew of it somehow and in a distant way it was connected to me, I suppose in the same way that an observer of a crime is both tied and separated from the events simultaneously.
We sat in the tea room at school and I remember we were having a luncheon; my mentor was sitting with us and I remember her saying, “I wouldn’t be surprised if things are completely changed by this. The manner in which we do business over there is going to change. It’s going to be unprecedented.”