A few weeks ago, we watched in rapt horror as a tsunami washed away whole communities. Our minds struggled to grasp the intensity of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the kind of damage it could do. And our spirits sank further as we learned of damaged nuclear reactors and the multi~system breakdown that prevented their cooling.
In the midst of such devastation, though, another type of story began to emerge from Japan. Tales of folks banding together, of perseverance in the face of so much destruction, of workers at the Fukushima nuclear facility risking death to protect so many others.
In a report by Diane Sawyer, we were given a name for the phenomenon we were witnessing. “The Japanese call it etai,” she explained. “It means to come together as one person.”
Etai shone through again in an online letter from an American named Anne who is living in Sendai, Japan, one of the hardest hit areas. “We share supplies,” she writes. “We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candle light, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful."
"During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes," she continues. "If someone has water running in their home, they put out (a) sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets.” Upon returning one day to her abandoned house, she writes, “I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is there.”
Last week I had lunch with a friend of mine, Nancy, whose dear mother is entering the final stages of Alzheimer's disease. Iris sleeps a lot, rarely speaks, seldom calls her daughter by name, often doesn't recognize her.
Recently, family members were gathered in her room discussing events in Japan. Nancy's father was sharing his struggles understanding how God could allow something like these triple disasters to happen to a people. Iris, who had seemed oblivious to the conversation, sat bolt upright and said very clearly, "It's so we can learn that we're all alike." She then fell back into herself.
Iris was right. We are all alike.
All of us live and learn on a tiny pearl of a planet we call home as it spins within a vast and ever changing universe. Our bodies are made of the same clay, and we are each enlivened by a spark from the same divine source. We can be devastated by tragedy and we can awaken through it to the truth of our common bond.
We are profoundly interconnected. The same radiation that seeps into the air above Japan will find its way into our bodies as well. And the same love that flows from our hearts in the West will surely reach our friends in the Far East.
So as we attend to the tragedies ravaging this earth we share, we would do well to honor Iris’s brief, but stunningly clear awakening, through living her insight while remaining awake ourselves. We are all alike, and we can come together as one person.
Half a century ago, John F. Kennedy gave a speech that included the line, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” While I have no idea how to write this in Japanese, today we can each truthfully say, “I am a citizen of Sendai.”
After you read these last few lines, please pause with me for a few moments to hold our Asian brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and all our Japanese kiddos in our hearts. Please do it now and frequently throughout this day and those to come.
PS. You can read Anne's letter from Japan HERE.