Monday, July 18, 2011

Happily ever after

This blog has been about the past four months of my life.  I went to Ofunato and Rikuzentakata, scared out of my wits, not knowing what faced me.  I saw a quiet hell.  I lived among people who showed incredible strength as well as real vulnerability.  I struggled to find the words to describe what I saw and felt.  I failed.  I succeeded.  I came home.  I went back.  I tackled my personal demons.  I came home again a new person.

Throughout this process, you have been there with me.  You let me throw my pain out to you even though I don't know many of you.  You let me rant.  You let me complain.  You supported and comforted me.

 It was hard.  It was very, very hard but I would do this all over again without hesitation, although I would do things very differently.  I have no regrets in going.  I'm a better person for having gone.

I will continue to work towards reconstruction, renewal and healing in Tohoku.  This is my life.  I'm very, very convinced I will live happily ever after, and I will do everything I know how to make even one person's life better so they can say the same.

Thank you for taking this journey with me.   

Sunday, July 17, 2011

And more...

Hello, Latvian friends!  It gives me great pleasure to add you to the list of people who have found this blog.  Thank you so much!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

It's all about you!

It's not fair that I am the only who gets enjoyment out of knowing who all is reading these postings.  I don't know who you are individually but I can see through my blog site where you're from.  I want to share this with you because in many cases the fact so many of you have found me is due to you spreading the word.  I didn't do this.  You did.  For that, I want you to know how grateful I am and to have as much fun as I've had knowing how far this blog has reached.

Here are the countries where this blog has gone:  Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Belarus, Estonia, China, Japan, South Korea, USA, Canada, France, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Poland, United Kingdom, Ecuador, Argentina, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Mauritius, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and India. 

In half of these countries, I know no one.  You some how found me. You spread the word.  You have been the key element in keeping the stories of Ofunato and Rikuzentakata alive. 

Although we will likely never meet, please know what a pleasure it has been to have you along with me.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Wrapping up

It has been almost four months since I started writing.  I am a changed person.  I liked the me from before but the new me is like a new shoe; it will take a few blisters for me to get used to the new look.  I can live with that.

I feel a very strong need, a pull, a calling to do something more tangible with the experiences I've had over the past four months.  For this, I've come up with two ideas.  I will be returning to Japan again in September, this time for three months.  Part of what I will do there involves continuing volunteer work, this time with many different organizations.  I'm not done with Tohoku.  I'm not done with Japan.  Second, I have decided to take the postings from this blog and the other (now defunct) blog to George Clooney and compile them into a book.  There are stories I didn't get around to writing.  These, too, need to be told.

The international media has all but forgotten about what happened on March 11th.  Certainly, much has happened since then.  What the world doesn't realize, and I understand why this is the case, is how widely the events on March 11th will continue to affect us.  All of us.  For this, and for many other reasons, I find it inexcusable that the media coverage has dried up.  I cannot single-handedly keep the focus on Japan.  I can, however, do my part.  It is with this in mind that I plan to publish my postings.

Neither of these projects will be completed quickly.  I am dedicated, though, if nothing else and once I commit, I'm in for the long haul.

So, today I write with gratitude and sincere humility for those of you who have followed this blog and for those who were active in spreading the word.  I am beginning the process of wrapping up the blog transferring my time and energy onto projects that I hope will continue to reach a wide audience.

Thank you for your friendship, words of encouragement and most of all, for your support.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"You look so....."

Having just come back from cursing at the ocean, I am all smiles.  Cliches are cliches for a reason, yes?  That's my excuse for interjecting one here:  I feel so much lighter.  Having said what I came to say to an ocean that doesn't care I honestly feel lighter.  Maybe it's that weight-of-the-world-on-my-shoulders-being-lifted feeling.  Maybe it's the overwhelming grief I couldn't express that's some how gone through me and is no longer stagnant inside.  It's almost frightening, this change in me.  I can feel the difference.  If I were 10, I would giggle.  Being, let's just say not 10, I grin instead.  A lot.

I make the rounds of the people I came to see in Ofunato.  I take gifts to people.  I show up unannounced and am warmly received.  I stop in and see Mr. S who runs one of the evacuation centers in town.  He put up a poster once which a included a call for locals to volunteer with the "group of foreigners."  This poster contained a sketch of a foreigner, large nose and all, which I later learned was me.  I chided Mr. S for weeks begging him to "do something about that nose" as I refused to be the poster child (literally, mind you) of all foreigners with big noses.

Mr. S was one of many people in Ofunato I saw over the next several days who commented on how I look.  This is good, you know.  I certainly don't mind comments about my looks, so long as they're compliments, of course.  What I heard from people over he net several days, compliments technically, made me realize how much of a transformation I must have gone through since having gone home and having just come from cursing at the ocean.

"You look so.....different," Mr. S says, and I rescue him from having to find he right words by quickly saying, "It's the make up.  You've never seen me with make up before."
"No," he replies.  "You look good."
Here, I laugh, which I shouldn't have but did.  He turns red.
"I'm sorry," he says and now I feel bad.
"It's okay.  I must have looked really bad before."
"You were," pause again, "tired, I think.  Right?"
"Oh, yes.  Most definitely."
"Well, you don't look tired now."
"Thank you.  I'm better.  I'm really okay."
"Good," he nods.  "It shows."

As I said, compliments are good.  I don't think much about this conversation other than to accept the fact evidently a). I looked pretty bad before, and b). I don't now.  I move on through town from shelter to shelter, group to group, person to person.  In a matter of a few hours, I realize this chat with Mr. S is not one person's opinion.

At the base, I run into Mrs. W who runs the office for the Ofunato Commerce Center.  We bow.  We say hello and exchange pleasantries.  I thank her profusely for letting us use the place, comment on how nice it looks, apologize for the mess we all made.  She nods and doesn't actually refute the last statement so now I know there was a lot of cleaning up to do when the volunteer group moved out.  We're silent for awhile and I wonder what to say next.
"You look nice," she says and catches me off guard.  I was looking at the boxes of relief supplies in the front office.
"What?  Oh, thank you."  I quickly throw in, "You've never seen me with make up on."  Never accept a compliment.  Give credit elsewhere even if it's to a giant cosmetics company.  Done.
"No, it's not that.  You look different."
Okay.  So, a few minutes ago it was "you look nice" and now that's "you look different" which means, again, I evidently didn't look so nice while I was here back in March, April and May.
"I'm relaxed," I say.
"You must be," and we let the conversation move onto other subjects.

I run into Mrs. W again later on in the afternoon along with Mrs. K who does the cooking for the volunteers.  I say hello to Mrs. K, kick myself for not bringing her a gift, and we stand and talk about life.
"You look so......" she starts, actually takes a step back and does the once over as if she's really checking me out, "different."
"Make up," I say on cue.  I remember my lines well, thank you.
"No," and her response is quite adamant.
"It's not the make up."
"It's her breasts," Mrs. W says, with a look of total seriousness and I actually guffaw.  This is a first.
"What?  What does that mean?" I can't wait to hear her response.
"You look healthy," is what I get.  What am I?  A cow?  Mrs. W is actually talking to my breasts.   This is seriously awkward.
"Oh, stop," Mrs. K looks at Mrs. W.  "She always looked healthy.  You've just never seen her in a t-shirt.  She was always wearing a jacket before.  She just looks..." and here she turns to me and says, "Well, maybe it's your skin.....or, well, you just look really good.  Happy.  Yes, happy.  You look happy."
"Refreshed," Mrs. W says.
"Yes.  Refreshed," Mrs. K agrees.

Okay.  My skin looks better, I look refreshed and I look different than before.  I continue to hear comments throughout my time in Ofunato about the before-and-after comparison and the general consensus is before = bad, after = good.  I accept the compliments as graciously as I can, making sure to give proper credit to the power of make up which of course, everyone deflects away.  The good news is, evidently I look more relaxed.  The bad news is, evidently I looked pretty bad for about seven weeks.  I suppose this shouldn't surprise me.  I make a conscious decision to look at the bright side.  These repeated reminders about the difference in how I look means I've come through the worst of it.  The fact I clearly couldn't/didn't cover up my stress during the time I spent in Ofunato is very potent and painful.  I'm glad the transformation I've just gone through is visible and positive even if that means I get compared to a cow in the process.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Blaming and cursing

I spent an afternoon on the beach in Ofunato getting drenched by the rain.  The ocean in front of me is the same ocean that blew giant waves onto the shores all along over 200 miles of coastline.  I'm angry at it.  I know the ocean doesn't care.  I know being angry at an ocean isn't a reasonable response but it's also very real.  I need to blame something.  I need to project my anger at some thing and right now, that thing is the ocean in front of me.

When the waves recede, it washes over small, black stones.  These waves, the ones that never stop, make the stones sound as if they're clapping.  This, too, makes me angry.  What are you applauding?  What did you do that deserves applause?  You, ocean, of all things don't deserve praise right now.

I see a large wooden door floating in the waves.  I look at it and assume it wants to come onto shore and rest.  The waves taunt it, pushing it forward towards the shore and then pull it back out.  The ocean is cruel this way.  Let the door be.  Let the door settle on these black pebbles that make this horrid clapping sound and let it rest on solid ground away from and out of the water.  No.  The ocean teases the door and the entire time I'm on the beach, it moves back and forth, to and from land.

The tsunami wall that was supposed to keep giant waves from crashing onto land did nothing.  One portion of the wall, a 8-inch thick concrete section, 6-feet by 6-feet rests near the edge of the water.  The waves moved it here and left it for us to see.  "See what I can do?"  Yes, I do.  You did this.  You want credit?  I'll give it to you in the form of blame.  This is your fault.

I see another larger section of the wall in the water, laying on the sand and rocks.  This one is larger, maybe 10-feet by 10-feet.  The waves tore this off the wall and brought it here for us to know just how much power it has.  I get it, ocean.  You're powerful.  You're so powerful you washed away walls, homes, bulldozers, people, trucks, boats and toys.  You feel no guilt because you can't.  That's simply not good enough.

I pick up several of the larger black stones at my feet and throw them into the water as far as I can.  They plop.  I feel ridiculous.  I didn't hurt the ocean.  I didn't cause it pain.  I want to, of course, but I can't.  It doesn't work that way.

I can't stop crying.  This is good, I know, but I feel stupid for being angry at something that on postcards is so beautiful.  I tell myself the water here is not blue, green or turquoise.  It's not pretty.  I don't need to feel stupid for crying.  My emotions, the ones I pushed down so deep for so long come out and my make up is ruined.

I curse at the ocean.  I call it names.  I tell it, "you did this" knowing it feels nothing.  I turn my back to it, making sure I intentionally snub it and walk away from it saying "I'll never feel the same way about you again."  It doesn't hear me, I know but I am blown away by how much better I feel.

This is what I needed.  This is the closure I came here for.  I feel different.  I'm soaked, having stood out in the rain for so long but am not bothered by how wet my shoes are or how messy I look.  I feel cleansed.  Between blaming something that can't accept fault, cursing at something that can't hear me and feeling a different sort of water wash me clean, I feel like myself again for the first time in a very, very long time.

I'm back.  The old me is back.  Not only that, this time I'm better than before.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The last four days: Part 5, No room at the inn(s)

When scheduling my trip to Ofunato, I asked some friends to help me find a hotel.  I wanted privacy.  I wanted to be alone.  I was willing to pay to get this.

Then came the answer.  There were no rooms available anywhere in Ofunato.  How is this possible?  I have no way of explaining this phenomenon.  I don't understand this but I'm also faced with the realization I have to find a place to stay.  I contact the volunteer organization I worked with previously and asked for a spot on the floor.  They agreed.  Then comes another realization.  I have no sleeping bag, no mat to sleep on and, of course, I forget my pajamas in Tokyo so I now have to decide whether I'll sleep in my clothes on the floor, alongside other volunteers (some of whom I know, others whom I don't) or come up with Plan B. 

There's always another way, albeit this time my thinking-outside-the-box ability failed me.  The suggestion came in the form of a carefully worded question from a friend:  "Would you be willing to stay in a love hotel?"

A love hotel, for those of you who don't know, is, let's just say, a place where couples go to get some "privacy" which, of course is code for a hidden spot to have an affair, or a place for a quickie.  In other words, people don't stay in a love hotel alone.  Rooms are rented by the hour, for several hours, or by the night and different rates apply for differing lengths of stay.

I ponder this suggestion.  I laugh.  I can sleep on the floor in my clothes or I can sleep in a bed in a room reserved for sex.  Swallowing my pride and definitely recognizing the humor in what I'm about to do, I find my way to a love hotel, and stay the night.  By myself.  Only me.  I watch television, looking around at the room, and laugh at the absurdity of it all. 

I wanted unique experiences?  I'm certainly getting them.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The last four days: Part 4, Seiji in love

We're out to dinner again.  The hodge-podge gang of Ofunato residents who sometimes help at the relief supplies depot who also double as volunteers are my people.  This is the same group I had dinner with back in May when through drunken whispers I was told it was Seiji's birthday.  This is the same group who wanted me to channel Marilyn Monroe as I sang "Happy Birthday" to Seiji.

Everyone in this group lost something or someone.  Seiji, now 26, lost his mother.  Everyone knows Seiji so this means everyone knows someone who lost someone.  Everyone in the group lost someone else close to them.  One woman, Miki-san, lost her business (washed away by the tsunami) and thus is now out of a job.  Another, Kimura-san, lost his car.  The list goes on and on.

What I love about them is their fierce loyalty and dedication.  They make each other laugh.  They truly enjoy each other's company.  It's beautiful to watch.  I find myself envious and at the same time I'm flattered they've let me into their inner circle.

Seiji looks well.  We sit across from each other. 
"How are you?"  I ask.  Before he can answer, Kimura-san, a man with closely cropped hair sitting next to him leans over, beaming and says, "Seiji's in love!  Again!"
"Really?!"  I say.  "Do tell.  Who is she?"  Seiji turns beat red.  I melt.
"Should I tell her?" he asks Sato-san, a young woman with pigtails sitting on the other side of Kimura-san.
"Of course you should tell me!" I say with as much mock indignation as I can muster up.  He turns red again.  I love this man.
"It's Lily," Kimura-san says.
"Lily?  Who's Lily?" I'm now confused.  "What happened to Beth?"
"See?" Kimura-san says.  "That's why I said 'again'.  He's in love with someone else.  Beth?  Old news.  Keep up with us, girl."  I laugh.
I turn to T, the Hip-Hop Buddha sitting next to me and say "do I know Lily?"
"I don't think so," he replies.  "She came after you left."  Ah.  Okay.
"So," I say, turning back to Seiji.  "Tell me about Lily."  Here Miki-san, the woman who lost her business sitting on the other side of me leans in and says to Seiji, "are you talking about Lily again?"
"Lily?!"  Kazu-san, clear at the other end of the table yells.  "Seiji!  Lily?  Again?"  Everyone laughs.
"Will someone please tell me who Lily is!" I squeal.
"Okay," Seiji's nod is determined.  "But you have to help me."
"Help you?  How?"
"You need to give me some phrases.  You need to tell me how American women think."
"Tell me first and I'll see what I can do," I tease.
Seiji goes into excruciating detail of how they met, how many times they've gone out ("in a group" he says, shaking his head), where they've gone, how there's always someone sitting between him and her.  On and on and on I hear this young man pour out his soul to me about his love for Lily.  It's really just simply completely cute.  I grin as he tells me all this.
Kimura-san says again, "I swear.  All this guy talks about is Lily."  Everyone laughs again.
Taro-san, now completely drunk says, "He even picked out clothes for her the other day."
"Oh, now see," I say.  "That's just too cute."
"Wait!  Wait, wait, wait.  I did not pick out clothes for her!" Seiji's objection makes this whole conversation that much more animated.
"You did!" Taro-san barks back.  "You were holding up this dress and saying 'do you think Lily would like this?' and then you pulled out this skirt and put it up against your waist and flipped it over and you were totally checking it out to see whether it would fit Lily."
"Wait," Seiji says again.  "That's not..." at which point Taro-san says, "Unless you were checking to see whether or not the skirt fit you!"  More laughter.  Guffawing, in fact.  Kimura-san starts crying he's laughing so hard.
"It's okay," I say, leaning over to Seiji.  "I think that's nice."  I'm mocking just only the slightest bit.
"I wasn't trying it on," he says.
"Of course you weren't."
"I picked it out of the bag--relief supplies, see--and I just happened to hold it up to my stomach to look down at it and then I flipped it over to see if there were any spots on it."
"Perfect," I say.
"But you were looking to see whether or not it would fit Lily, right?"  Miki-san asks.
"Was not."
"Was!" Taro-san yells.
"I really wasn't," Seiji says to me.
"I believe you," I say grinning.
"See," Seiji reaches behind his chair and picks up his bag.  There's a kangaroo head sticking out from the top zipper.
"I picked this up, too."  Granted, the stuffed animal is cute.  The head sticking out from the bag makes it cuter.  American women, however, are not going to be particularly fond of a 26-year old man who like stuffed animals.  How to break the news.....think, think, think.
"Oh, and this box of curry," Seiji says quickly, as if to make sure I don't think he picks out just stuffed animals.
"You have to tell her you're allowed to take things from relief supplies," Kimura-san says, noticing my silence.
"Oh, right.  I'm allowed to take things from relief supplies."  I wasn't thinking about this at all.
"I'm sure.  No, that's fine.  You guys know more about this than I do."  I pause.
"Seiji," I say, and now suddenly everyone's listening.  Crap.  I was hoping to be more subtle in telling him to cute little kangaroos popping out of bags won't fly with Lily.
"Never mind," I laugh.  Hoping to not make what I was about to say seem so interesting.
"No, no, no," Seiji says.  "You were going to say something important.  I can tell."  Good grief.  Think fast, girl.  I decide to come out with it.
"So, see," I start.  "That stuffed animal..." and before I can finish, Kazu-san says, "He can't carry that thing around, right?" And then turning to Seiji, he mock-scolds, "I told you Lily will think you're a freak if you walk around with that kangaroo head sticking out of your bag."
"How did this whole conversation become about Lily?"  Kimura-san cocks his head to one side with a look of faux confusion.
"Lily, Lily, Lily," Sato-san says.  "I wish someone would love me as much as he loves Lily."  Here, all the men pat around her on the shoulder and others at the other end of the table chime in and they all mutter at once that yes someday she'll find a good man, and sweetie you just has to be patient, and she doesn't want Seiji anyway, and he'll never succeed with Lily at which point Seiji yells, "Hey!  I might!" and everyone laughs again.

This continued for three hours.  Side conversations between two people here and three people there all seemed to converge back to Seiji and his love for Lily.  When someone would say Lily's name either to Seiji or as a part of the conversation, someone from four or five seats away would inevitably stop what they were saying and lean deep into the table, put on their best fake frown and say, "Lily?  Again?  Seriously?" 

"It's good you're in love," I say to Seiji as I hope no one overhears what I'm saying.
"Yeah," he says and grins.  Then he looks up at me and says again, "Yeah, it's good."  Immediately I feel tears.  Here's a man who lost his mother three months ago and is now in love, albeit again.  I quickly smile and say, hoping my voice won't crack "You're going to be okay."  He's quiet for a minute and then say, "I know."

Sato-san, the woman with pigtails has been listening.  She says to me, "Seiji can't tell Lily he loves her quite yet."
"Oh?  Why not."
"I'm taking the exam to be a cop," Seiji says. 
"Are you?" I beam.  "Good for you!  You'll make a great cop!"  This is clearly too much of a compliment, so in true Japanese form Seiji has to deflect it by saying, "I haven't passed yet." 
"He can't tell Lily until he takes the exam," Sato-san explains.  "It's bad luck."  Okay.  I don't challenge this way of thinking.
"You will though.  You'll pass," I say and then stop. "Oh.  I've got it."  I pull out my small notebook from my purse.  "What?" Sato-san says, grinning and curious.  I look up at Seiji.
"You need to tell Lily about this exam."  Seiji's grin is possibly the most beautiful sight I've seen all evening.
"Right," he says.  "I do."
"You really do," I say, "and here's why."  I pause for dramatic affect and say, "You want to know what American women like?"  Suddenly everyone's listening again.  Of course they are.  The timing of when they delve into their own conversations versus when they listen in to mine, it's simply uncanny. 
"I won't speak for all American women," I say.
"I understand, I understand," Seiji says and everyone now stops everything they were doing, chopsticks raised half way, glasses of beer in hand.  Good grief. A bit of privacy, people!  Please!
"See, American women, rather a lot of American women," and I pause again, "like men in uniforms."  The whole table buzzes at once as everyone starts comparing theories on whether or not this will increase Seiji's chances of hooking up with Lily.
"Really?"  Seiji looks at me.
"Really," I say.  "I do.  I think men in uniforms are hot."  I add for good measure, the recent newspaper article citing how a poll taken after the earthquake (why anyone actually took this poll is beyond me) showing Japanese women think cops and Self Defense Force guys are the hottest, most manly men in Japan.
"That's gooood," Taro-san says.  "This boy needs all the help he can get."

For the life of me, I can't tell you what the rest of the evening was spent discussing.  I can tell you Seiji now knows how to say in English "I'm taking an exam to become a police officer" and "This is my uniform" and other sentences that he can use on Lily to hopefully woo her affections.  My notebook was filled with short English phrases and words Seiji can use with Lily.  I lost a lot of pages out that night and Seiji went home with a stack of folded over sheets of paper.  He would put them in one pocket and then mutter, "No, I'll forget it if I put it there," and then slide them into a more obvious spot, patting the zipped pocket as if to make sure the papers stay there.  A most beautiful sight to behold.  I try not to choke up.

Good luck, dear man.  I wish you all the happiness you deserve.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The last four days: Part 3, Ofunato-bound

I left for Ofunato with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I wanted peace of mind.  On the other hand, I wasn't sure how I would react to seeing torn up buildings again.  I wanted to be around certain people.  I wanted to avoid others.  I wanted to continue listening.  I knew some of what I would hear would tear open wounds that had only recently begun to heal.

The answers lie in Ofunato.  Closure (a much overused word in my opinion) wouldn't come until I dealt with what I left behind.  Knowing this is one thing.  Actually dealing with it head on is entirely another matter.  But...not being one to avoid conflict (albeit one deeply rooted in my psyche) I woke myself up at 4:30 to catch a 6:15am bullet train.

My recipe for happiness =  excitement - dread;  healing + tears;  sound sleep > dreams;  commitment + people/places/causes I love.  Not sharing a love of numbers or numerical symbols, I don't know how to express this last one "mathematically" so I will resort to my forte, words.  Very little else in life would make me happier than to see Tohoku at peace with itself, its past and its future.

The last four days: Part 2, Tokyo Girl

The first 24 hours in Tokyo did wonders for my soul.  The view from the 27th floor balcony (the building where I'm staying) pans out into skyscrapers, office buildings, embassies and Tokyo Tower so close I feel I can touch it.  Red lights on rooftops blink as far as I can see.  This is a key ingredient for my recipe of happiness.  I can already sense myself healing.

I've already cried.  My first night here was my first night without a dream in over a month.  I feel more like myself than I have in months.  Life is good.

The last four days: Part 1, Setsuden

The pilot gives an update before we land in Tokyo.  We hear about wind direction and speed, arrival time and gate but it's the temperature I want to hear.  Then it comes.

"It's 30 degrees Celsius."  Ouch.  When I left Boston it was a cool sixty-something.  In Tokyo it's tsuyu--the rainy season.  That means 30 degrees C (around 87 degrees F) contains a muggy, sweaty, rainy, humid mix to the higher-than-I'm-used-to temperature.  Let's just say I'm a fall and winter girl.  I melt in the heat.  My usual love for adventure and "bring it on" mentality is less attractive all of a sudden.  At least it's not August.  At least I came in June.

I don't really melt in the heat.  I get cranky but I mask that well.  Most of the time, at least.  What I'm dreading is the previously announced government policy towards the use of electricity.  Rather the lack thereof.  With the Fukushima Nuclear Plant disaster still very much on everyone's minds, there's an awareness this summer will be hotter than usual if for no other reason the use of electricity is to be limited.

Setsuden is the Japanese word, catchall word/phrase/abbreviation for saving electricity.  There are signs all over Tokyo proclaiming this is the summer for all of us to turn off our fans, use the air conditioner less often and not turn every light on in the house.  The conductors on subways and trains tell us every few stops that fewer lights are on in the trains and stations and not all cars are using air conditioning.  This is followed with a request for everyone's understanding and cooperation.  The stations and underground mazes smell not of body odor but of stale and stagnant air.  There is a distinct odor everywhere not of stinky bodies but of damp and heavy air that has not had a chance to circulate.  The heat emanating from bodies is palpable as we pass each other on the street, stand next to each other in the trains and move from place to place.

But, no one complains.  I've seen salarymen in short sleeves fanning themselves with round fans they picked up at strip clubs.  Women carry cloth umbrellas to block the sun.  I have to work hard not to look at a woman's make up (especially her foundation) as it starts to flake with her sweat.  Small hand towels regularly wipe off sweat from the nape of the neck and the brow.  Everyone is hot.  Everyone knows it's going to get hotter.  I have yet to hear anyone complain.  I have yet to see anyone snap.

Stations post signage saying fewer trains are running.  Building entrances have similar postings stating the air conditioner is turned off.  These same signs apologize for the inconvenience.  Fewer trains run because there's less electricity to go around.  Skyscrapers and department stores no longer give off that strong blast of cool air immediately upon entry.  There's less electricity available because the nuclear power plants that provide this area (and beyond) are inactive.  Short of going through scheduled brown outs this summer, everyone knows setsuden is now a way of life.  Complaining about it does no good.  It is what it is.

It's going to be a long summer.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Our love of words

My love of words runs in my genes.  I remember clearly seeing my grandmother in her recliner reading Gloria Steinem's autobiography.  I also remember the combination of shock and pride I felt knowing no other woman in her circle of friends would dare read such a book.  My mother is a poet and a writer.  Our family's love of poetry skipped a generation (e.g. me) and went straight to my son.  I much prefer long, drawn out stories (so long as they're interesting) as opposed to the cryptic musings of Emily Dickenson and Homer.

My work has been about words.  I take pride in being able to repeat the words of others in the way they were intended.  That's my interpretation of my interpreting skills, but I stand by it.  I like knowing I convey the speaker's meaning as well as his or her words.  This is what largely plays into my frustration in not having been able to find the right words to express what I saw and experienced in Iwate.

But, this post is not about that.  This post is about my husband.  While in Japan, I bought the CD Songs for Japan, a compilation of many artists' songs.  I just started listening to the two CDs over the past several days.  One of the songs is by Queen.  I'm not much of a Queen fan but this song has hit a nerve.

Teo Toriatte, or Let Us Cling Together is simply beautiful.  The lyrics speak to me and for my love for my husband.  That part of the lyrics are in Japanese, a simple, elegant and accurate translation of the English poetry only adds to the depth of feeling the song conveys.

I said several weeks ago that my husband does not "let" me do things.  We don't operate that way.  The long leash we have given each other is a gift we give to the other.  This time, however, I leave for Japan with a sense he is truly "letting me go."  It was he who said even while I was still in Japan last month that I clearly needed to go back, and soon.

I go back to Japan with a profound sense of responsibility to take the words of others I've been given and come home at peace with this gift.  I will do everything I can to find the words, channeling my mother and son if I have to, to write strong, honest posts about who I have become as a result of my experiences.  All this while I'm doing this, I will sing Let Us Cling Together in my head and think of my husband.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Facing my anger with dignity

I do believe anger, as an emotion, gets a bad rap.  Too often we're told to let it go, not let it consume us.  It's considered a "negative" emotion.  Anger can eat away and fester within us, I agree.  I also believe many of us don't deal with it and push it aside. 

I want to face my anger with dignity.  My 20-year old son cautions me against making statements like "I'm angry at nature" or "I'm angry at the ocean" saying it makes me sound irrational.  I see his point.  I also know there is anger within me and I have found myself directing it at, very specifically, the wave that caused so much damage.

When I was five, I stood at the top of the stairs and yelled what was considered a very bad word for a five-year old girl to use.  That I directed this word to my mother and her group of women friends was quite an egregious act for any daughter, much less one only five.  I believe I was sent to my room for the remainder of the day waiting for my father to come home, knowing there would be some form of punishment.  I specifically remember the waiting being much worse than the punishment itself.

The word I yelled down the stairs was "baka."  By itself it's not all that bad of a word.  It translates as  "stupid" but in certain contexts carries more weight.  In hindsight, that I was five and had the audacity and terrible manners to use this word to my mother, the ultimate in disrespecting her, was what got me in trouble.

I bring this up to say it is this word "baka" that I plan to yell at the ocean when I go back to Ofunato next week.  I mean it in the worst way possible.  I mean it with all the venom it can hold.  I am angry.  I can't simply ignore this emotion.  It's deeply rooted within me and I have yet to find a way to let it out.  After being home a month and dreaming about Iwate every night, it's clear to me I need to let go of this.  I don't know how to without letting the ocean know how much it pained me to see what it did to three hundred miles of coastline, ruining buildings, washing people away and causing so much emotional and physical damage.

Cursing at the ocean, in my book, by my definition, is not an irrational act like the one I committed when I was five.  It's a very legitimate way of letting go.  For that, I will yell it at the top of my lungs and not worry about the punishment that may follow.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wisdom of the elderly

He would not be happy to be called "elderly" which is why I do, of course.  He calls me a "tough old broad" and this is my payback.  My mentor with whom I had lunch on Monday is a retired cop.  I called him to say I needed advice.  After twenty-five years on the force I knew he had stories.  I've heard many of them.  How he got through the difficult cases, of which he had many, was what I wanted to know.

"You're asking the wrong question," my cousin says as I tell him of the upcoming lunch date.
"What do you mean?"
"You asked him how he got through twenty-five years of seeing the worst in people, right?"
"Right," I agree.
"You need to ask him how he got through the first tough case he ever worked on."

If this were a cartoon, this is where you would see a light bulb over my head.  My cousin is right.  I decide to do just that.

We're sitting over a classic, Italian thin-crust pizza, my mentor and I.  I start in with the question my cousin suggested I ask.  My mentor swigs his beer and says, "You're going about this the wrong way, sweetheart."  I put my fork down. 

"No, I'm not," I protest.  "This is going to help me.  I need to know.  The first really bad case you had.  How did you deal with it?  Did you throw up?  Did you get drunk?  Did you do something stupid to let out what was inside?"
"You have to remember," he continues, "I was trained before I ever saw my first dead body.  I knew what to do before I went looking for the first missing kid.  You," and here he points at me with his fork, "didn't.  You didn't know what you were getting into."
"But, your first case," I say and he interrupts me. 
"No."  Just that.  "No."

I'm silent for awhile.  Why won't he answer my question?  I really think this answer will help me.  I want answers.  I really do.  I look up and am about to say something when he gives me a look.
"Listen," my mentor says.  "It's not about the first case or the culmination of twenty-five years of seeing bodies dumped in barrels."  My pizza doesn't look all that good any more. 
"See, in police work there's a bucket.  We all get handed this bucket," he makes a box with his hands.  "Not a real one," he says, looking at me looking at the empty space in which he just drew an imaginary box.
"Our cases, the shit we see, we spoon this shit into this bucket one teaspoon at a time.  It takes a long time for the shit to build up in the bucket.  The first case is hard, yeah.  But, we have other cops, older cops around us to help us through it.  You," and he points at me again, "didn't.  You were all alone.  You practically filled the bucket with one job.  What you saw and did was really that hard.  You saw the same shit day in and day out.  Our dead bodies go to the morgue.  We don't see them any more after we find them.  You had all this going on all around you and you couldn't get away.  It's different, sweetheart.  Do you get that?"

I do.  I get it.  I did fill my bucket too fast.  I was unprepared but I also couldn't possibly have been prepared.

"And, for whatever it's worth, the dead bodies in the barrels were the ones that bothered me."  I don't say anything.  "You've got to remember," he says, "cops are supposed to close cases.  We're doing this for the families.  For closure.  You don't get to do that.  There's no closure here for you.  You get to come home, yeah, but that's not closure.  It's like you've got a hundred open cases you can't do anything about.  No wonder you feel like shit."

I ponder his words.  They're true.  My mentor did not give me the answer I wanted but he showed me another way to look at why I'm having difficulty sleeping and am still dreaming.  I'm grateful for this.  It makes me feel less like a basket case and more like someone who went through a tough time.  I'm accustomed to thinking of myself as a strong and capable woman.  I still am.  I just happened to have gone through something intense beyond words.  His words make me feel better.  I look up to him and say, "thanks."
"Any time, kiddo."

Oh, and if he weren't someone I think so highly of, he would never get away with calling me "sweetheart" but he does.  I really do like him that much.