Reflecting on Japan
In the last few years there have been a lot of different natural disasters on our planet but this year has felt very different for me as it is all occurring in places I have called home. I lived in Australia for a couple of years so in January I watched as Brisbane flooded and friends of mine who lived on the river had to pack up their entire apartment in 24 hours after being told they had 48 hours before it was flooded to the roof.
As a Kiwi I watched last month as the city of Christchurch was hit by NZ’s worst earthquake in 80 years. Friends of mine lost people they loved there and the death toll seems to be sitting between 160-200 (it’s been hard to find accurate info online in the last couple of days as all searches for Christchurch bring up a lot of Japan info).
Now Japan. I moved to Japan in my early 20’s for two years. It was the first time I had lived abroad, travelled alone, or been further from home than Australia. A lot of people visit Japan but you can never really get to know the people or understand the cultural differences until you’ve lived there. It’s a country, and I’m sure I’m speaking for many ex-gaijin here (‘gaijin’ is the Japanese work for foreigner), that you can hate bitterly and love fiercely all at the same time while you are there. Of all the places I have lived Japan changed me and shaped me more than any other. And now I find myself watching as earthquakes and tsunamis strike it and the death toll is predicted as at least 10,000 in the Miyagi prefecture alone. I am overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and the devastation…but also by the sheer courage and beauty of the people in Japan, and the world that is banding together to support them.
There will probably be a lot more I will want to write about this in the upcoming weeks but today I’ll write what is true to me right now while I try to get my head around what I am seeing.
In the last few days, while watching the footage, photos, and the news of Japan I have been repeatedly struck by two recurring thoughts.
One is the desire to connect with people I know there. ‘Connect’ is a word I hear a lot of as in “Hey, it was great to connect with you” or “Let’s connect on facebook” and something about it always makes me want to stick my tongue out and blow a raspberry. Nope, this is not what I mean by connection. When I was 9 my best friend at the time moved to Hong Kong and here is what I would sometimes do when I was thinking about her. I would focus all my thoughts as intently as I could on her, and I would think that right in that instant, whether she was sleeping, was with friends, or was doing her homework, and whether she was aware of it or not, I was right there with her. It amazed me that through just focusing my thoughts, I could feel right next to her from thousands of miles away, and she wouldn’t even know it. And I find myself doing the same now. I keep focusing my thoughts and putting myself right there in Japan with two friends in particular. One who, though far away from the action, is a very anxious individual and I know is living in a little bit of a state of terror right now. The other who is also far away and safe but is waiting for news from family who live in one of the areas that was first and worst hit by the tsunami. I just feel the need to be there with them. If you are imagining that your computer and your phone are the only ways that energy can connect you to people far away then think again.
The other overwhelming thought is about the brevity of our lives and how little we really think about this. I watch a pretty hard-hitting video of the tsunami…and then I write ‘happy birthday!’ on two facebook friend’s walls. I’ll finish this blog, then I’ll eat breakfast, have a shower, and make some calls for something I need to organise tonight. “Live each day like it’s your last, ’cause one day you gonna be right”. Ray Charles said that…and you’ll find countless other quotes saying something similar. I love the sentiment, I truly do, but how many people do you know who really live like this? Even if you spend some time thinking about this every day your mind will then be busy off thinking about the dry-cleaning that needs picking up, the business phone call you need to make, what you’ll have for lunch and who with, the latest guy/girl that you fancy, and in general what happened last week/year/decade and what might happen next week/year/decade. Let’s get even more honest and admit that most of us to kinda take for granted that we’ll just be around till old age wears us out. I don’t care what the average life-expectancy is or that your mum promised you you’ll live forever. I might quite like the idea that I’ll live till 91 and die peacefully in my bed, but seriously, not a one of us was ever issued with any kind of guarantee of this or anything resembling it. Something like what is happening in Japan makes you reflect on that, but only for a very brief time. And that’s ok – it wouldn’t be practical to constantly be thinking that it might all end tomorrow. We reflect on the past, we spend time in the present, and we plan for the future – and all three are important.
But what I have been doing the last few days and I’ll do it again right now (join me if you want to) is to take a minute, I mean a really conscious minute to think about my life and about how lucky I am to have today. Each extra day is a gift. I often take that for granted, and I bet you do too, but not for this minute. I’m thinking about the amazing people I have in my life and all the wonderful things I’ve been able to do with all the days I have been gifted until now. I’m thinking about what really matters to me and who really matters to me if this really was my last day in the form I am currently in. The little stressful things fall away and I’m thinking about what it is that I really want to do on this planet while I’m still Kristie West, however long that might be.
And I am sending my love, thoughts, and strength right now to the people of and the people in one of the most beautiful and amazing countries I know of -Japan.
雨降って地固まる (Ame futte chi katamaru) Japanese proverb meaning literally: after the rain, earth hardens (Adversity builds character)