Sunday, April 03, 2011

Of Emense Suffering, Loss, and Hope

The events of the past several weeks in Japan and Libya have focused my attention on a part of life of which I know very little, if anything.

Human suffering.

During the 1960s and 70s I grew up in a home where virtually all pain, disappointment and heartache were ignored.  My Mother in particular purposefully distracted me from the pain of others, or made tragic events seem as if they had not happened.  When people would ask my Mom how she was doing, the answer was, invariably, "fine".  It seemed as thought just about everything was always described as just "fine".  "Fine" was one of my Mom's favorite words. As I grew up, I slowly began to realize that the world around me was anything but fine.

And in the past two weeks, the level of suffering and loss we have seen in the world, yet again, staggers the imagination.  Entire villages washed away, families torn apart, lives shattered.  The stories seem endless, the images riveting, the loss more immense than words could ever convey.  There is a depth to this suffering that cannot be plumbed, or written about, or ever understood by most of us. 

And this time, so strangely, we were able to watch the tragedy unfold in almost real-time, as a helicopter hovered over the eastern coast of northern Japan, and relayed live video of the tsunami washing away vast swaths of coastland, homes, and lives.  Cars and buses which one moment were driving down coastal roads, had become in the next few moments, the final containers in which people would take their last breaths on this planet.

How can one even begin to comprehend the depth of sorrow, when you read of the couple who lost both of their children; because they were moved after the earthquake to the safe area in the playground of their elementary school, only to be carried away moments later by the waters of the tsunami?  How can you empathize, how can you cope with this news?  This is all too big, too overwhelming.  Bright and promising lives, simple seaside villages, dignified elderly Japanese, all washed away in sudden 30 foot tsunami of suffering, obliterating everything in its path.

And in the midst of this, if I am honest, I must ask myself, where is God?  Why did this happen?  To these people, in this place.  We have all read the stories of elderly Japanese who are now facing, yet again, a cataclysm of massive proportions.  After the fire bombing of Japan at the end of World War II, and the complete erasure of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the older generation of Japan is bearing a burden for the second time, that no other nation has experienced in modern history.  What is going on here?  What could be the point of this?  I confess I do not know, nor do I understand. 

And is there Hope?
Niholas Kristof of the New York Times writes of the Japanese people,

"There’s a kind of national honor code, exemplified by the way even cheap restaurants will lend you an umbrella if you’re caught in a downpour; you’re simply expected to return it in a day or two. If you lose your wallet in the subway, you expect to get it back."
For the better part of the past 60 years, the Japanese people have endured unbearable hardships with dignity and grace.  Watching this has brought tears to my eyes.  Had this calamity been visited upon us, we Americans would likely be busy blaming one another on cable TV for who was at fault for not being well prepared.  The tort lawyers would be lined up ready to sue.  And there would likely be looting.

But the Japanese face this all with a quiet resolution that is resolute, yet full of dignity.  There is a hiku by one of Japan’s greatest poets, Basho:
The vicissitudes of life.
Sad, to become finally
A bamboo shoot.

I think Japan will rise from this ruble, assisted by the world community, to go on teaching us about order, dignity, and hope.  They already are an example to us all.
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