Day 72: Japan: The Epicenter of Our Hearts

13 March 2011

The 72nd Day of 2011

The dev­as­ta­tion from the earth­quake and sub­se­quent tsunami has reached incom­pre­hen­si­ble pro­por­tions. The cov­er­age on tele­vi­sion, espe­cially on CNN, has been com­plete and graphic. Yet, no mat­ter how many times I see the angry ocean swal­low­ing the vil­lages and the peo­ple of Japan, it takes on an even more sur­real qual­ity. I have sus­tained shock and fear in two of the seri­ous South­ern Cal­i­for­nia earth­quakes, and expe­ri­enced many minor “tremors” dur­ing my child­hood and adult years in my home state. But noth­ing com­pares to what has come to the island coun­try of Japan. At its epi­cen­ter, the quake mea­sured 9.0 and some of the after­shocks (200 plus and more expected in the next weeks) are the same mag­ni­tude as major earth­quakes in other parts of the world.

Katie Bam­berger © 2011

Japan’s tragedy is a nat­ural one. It is not the result of ter­ror­ism, war, or retal­i­a­tion, or the out­come of hos­tile rela­tion­ships with any­one. It is the force that can­not be con­trolled nor can it be pre­dicted, except that it would hap­pen –  but when and at what level?  We are per­haps most uncom­fort­able when we can’t define why things hap­pen, or point to blame or really explain why it was so enor­mous. It’s an unfor­tu­nate human need that many of us have – we want to assign respon­si­bil­ity for mas­sive loss of life, when it comes dur­ing a vio­lent act. And this was a vio­lent action, not of humans, but of the Earth itself. The quake was so intense that the axis of the globe shifted, our bal­anc­ing mech­a­nism is dif­fer­ently aligned now. Although that does not influ­ence our lives, it has a stun­ning mean­ing as metaphor and real­ity. “Rest your tired wings on Mother Earth and She will pro­tect you” was the open­ing line to a med­i­ta­tion I used in my yoga prac­tice years ago. Mother Earth needs pro­tec­tion as much as we do in these tur­bu­lent times.

Katie Bam­berger © 2011

Japan is slightly smaller than the state of Cal­i­for­nia and so it is that an entire nation feels jan­gled. The after­shocks travel miles.  The buzzing sound of the earth adjust­ing itself is a com­mu­nal event. I will not share pho­tographs of the things we are all see­ing on the news, avail­able 24/7,  because it is not needed here. And because I believe that at a cer­tain point, those images numb us to human loss. We lose per­spec­tive because the num­bers are so large and the replay­ing of the hor­ror becomes too much like a Hol­ly­wood destruc­tion of the world film. We are accus­tomed to see­ing images of all forms of vio­lence, and to news cov­er­age of nat­ural dis­as­ters from Haiti, to Indone­sia to South Amer­ica, to our own coun­try. Today, From this Ter­race is ded­i­cated to pro­vid­ing a space for  silence, for the mem­ory of the indi­vid­ual lives of those lost in Japan.


The petals tremble

On the yel­low moun­tain rose

Roar of the rapids

If I see an old woman being car­ried out of a place of rub­ble and see only an elderly Japan­ese woman, then I am not see­ing as a per­son, not as the per­son I strive to become in the years yet left to me. I want to see my own mother or my aunt.  Japan is a part of me, a part of our shared world and our time together on this planet. I can’t dis­lodge Japan from my brain­heart. I will not look away but look deeper — not at the larger land­scape but at the smaller ones. The story of Japan on March 11, 2011 is not only the story of the thou­sands lost and dead, but also the story of the one. If we lose the mean­ing of the one lost life, one after another and another and another, we lose our abil­ity to mourn with the coun­try of Japan. We give up the oppor­tu­nity to fully embrace the loss of global neighbors.

The pass­ing spring

Birds mourn, fishes weep

With tear­ful eyes

My good friend Toni Bern­hard, the author of How to Be Sick, wrote this and it has been some­thing I’ve been try­ing to do, to the best of my abil­ity. “I’m prac­tic­ing ton­glen for the peo­ple in Japan – breath­ing in their fear and suf­fer­ing, breath­ing out what calm and com­pas­sion I can give. If you’re not com­fort­able with this prac­tice, send them your thoughts and prayers in your own per­sonal way.”

That is what I ask of all vis­i­tors to From This Ter­race dur­ing these days and weeks ahead. Some of us will say tra­di­tional prayers from our faiths. Some will hold thoughts of com­pas­sion and hope.  Some will engage in the Bud­dhist prac­tice of  ton­glen. What you do and how you do it is not the issue; nor should judg­ment be passed on how peo­ple are able to con­nect, but only that we do. The Kad­dish, the Jew­ish prayer for the dead,  is not a prayer of death but of affir­ma­tion. CNN has been devot­ing a few min­utes to read­ing “Tweets”  trans­lated into Eng­lish. One stays with me. A mother wrote that her lit­tle child, two years old or so, said:  “I want to arrest the Earth­quake.”  From that remark the mother drew strength, feel­ing com­forted that her child had a sense of justice.

Phys­i­cal and nat­ural beauty are impor­tant in Japan­ese cul­ture; the pic­tures placed here can remind us of that. The Haiku poems are  writ­ten by Matsu Basho (1644–1694).  They might serve as memo­r­ial words, but are also the state­ment of belief in the strength of a peo­ple to rebuild, to grieve — and be embraced by the kind­ness and com­pas­sion of the world.

How wild the sea is,

And over Sado Island,

The river of heaven


©2011 Alida Brill From This Terrace


Filed under Community, Compassion, Friendship, Hope, Inspiration, Life, Memories, Poetry, Relationships, This Moment, Time

5 Responses to Day 72: Japan: The Epicenter of Our Hearts

  1. Alida — This post moves me to the core. I will not be able to watch another child in dis­tress in Japan with­out see­ing my own chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. I will not be able to see another elderly per­son being car­ried on someone’s back with­out see­ing my own beloved Nana. Your words have trans­formed what has slowly been turn­ing into that numb­ing expe­ri­ence of which you wrote (as I watch hour after hour of cov­er­age) into an expe­ri­ence right at my front door. I will try to turn this into some­thing tan­gi­ble and con­struc­tive — in addi­tion to prac­tic­ing ton­glen, I’m writ­ing another check to the Red Cross.

  2. Very mov­ing and com­pas­sion­ate. Thank you.

  3. This is beau­ti­ful. We must con­nect with the peo­ple of Japan and their tragedy. Thank you for the reminder to revere nature and care for her and her people.

  4. Katie Bamberger

    Thank you for this per­specitive on the recent events in Japan and it’s dev­as­tat­ing after­math. Your post has helped me to step back from the news cov­er­age and be reminded of the impor­tance of con­nec­tion and com­pas­sion, and of course, hope.

  5. This is the third time I have returned to read this post, find­ing myself both moved and chal­lenged by it. How easy it is to frame my thoughts within the struc­ture of my own life with pain, yet how impor­tant it is to gain and grow the per­spec­tive that we all are suf­fer­ing and we all need com­pas­sion­ate prac­tice like ton­glen, prayer, and atten­tive pres­ence. Thank you for this reminder.

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