Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan earthquake

At three in the morning on March 11, 2011, Alaska time, the world changed for my wife and I.  When she woke up that morning a short message from her sister said that they were okay, but her father's workshop was gone (for an independent ceramic artist it is an irreplaceable loss).  This was among other messages from concerned friends.  At six in the morning she came to my bed crying and shared the news: an earthquake off the coast of Sendai.  The little news we had didn't all quite sink in for me then, it was surreal.  Later that day as I was heading to work, I heard the news over the radio, it gave me goose bumps, then as the announcer described details of the loss of life and property the reality of it all hit me and I began to cry.  March 11 was a day of crying for anyone who is close to anyone affected by that earthquake.  For those directly affected, I am sure many other strong emotions were felt as well, fear being foremost. 

I have been to Sendai three times visiting family members there.  The first time was before I was married, the second time was after I was married, and the third time I returned was after my wife and I had two small children.  The family we have there are very kind and generous, and it was a beautiful city.  But now it is the center of a national disaster, a disaster that the world is responding to.  A disaster that is still going on - the most pressing concern is evacuation as the meltdown of a nuclear power plant looms.  Now it is time for us to be generous. 

Two days before the earthquake I spoke briefly to my mother-in-law on the phone.  Her English is better than my Japanese.  My wife later returned her call and learned that there had been some bad news from the family, but things were on the mend.  Why the earthquake occurred later that week, I don't know.  But it mirrors the pattern in nature: several smaller earthquakes foreshadowed the coming of the large 8.9 earthquake.  If there was ever a time I wished I had the ability to predict the future, I wish I could have predicted this.  The night before the earthquake was the most beautiful display of the aurora borealis in Fairbanks that I had seen all winter. 

I have been trying to tally up the personal loss that affects us alone.  My wife's parents face starting over in life when most people their age would be starting or already enjoying their retirement.  My wife's sister, her husband, and their three children face unknown dangers in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami.  Friends that we know in the area have certainly lost all their possessions, some perhaps their lives.  Some have seen their houses literally float away.  Places where we have been are gone, buildings, parks, roads, shops, the school my wife attended as a child, maybe the graveyard where her family members are buried.  These are only memories now that we have in our photos and videos.  But for my wife's parents, if their records of the past are gone, their memories may only exist in their minds.  In only a few minutes nature dramatically demonstrated the ultimate transience of human life and accomplishments.  Now that the past is gone, the future has never been less certain.

Update 3/14/11:
My wife's sister has electricity and her cell phone is working. She posted 22 photos to her facebook page. While the workshop is still standing, and in better condition than we had first feared, it is leaning dangerously to the side and her parents are working daily to remove items as aftershocks periodically continue to be felt. The family is still okay as food and water are available. The biggest concern remains the nuclear power plants. Warnings not to go outside when it rains have been put in effect.

leaning workshop
same workshop; view from chimney corner in above photo
interior of workshop

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