Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Can't Even Imagine...

Japan has been running through my thoughts constantly for the past few days. Initially I looked at pictures online and read articles here and there, but at some point it took over a good portion of my consciousness. Maybe it's because so many people are affected, maybe it's because this is a first-world nation (translation: they're just like us, so it could happen here too), or maybe it's because this crazy radiation thing is such a horrific problem that has no solution. I mean, you can never replace lives lost in tragedies like this, but you can clean up and rebuild and somehow move forward. But when this whole radiation situation comes into play, you can never really move on completely because you're always going to be wondering if the radiation has set you up for a lifetime of illness ahead. That's just scary.

Ultimately I do think what's kept this situation at the forefront of my mind is simply that they are so much like us. They're not Indonesian villagers. They had pleasant little houses in average towns and cities, just like we live in. They were living their lives pretty much like us (albeit with more rice and fish), right up until the moment that earthquake struck. It could be any one of us. And I know that their lives are no more or less important than those Indonesian villagers...but I think it's just human nature to relate more to what you know. And as a parent, these images become that much more vivid. Parenthood inevitably shifts your focus from "me" to everyone else, so I think it becomes all too easy to put yourself into the shoes of those who are suffering...in whatever small way you can even begin to imagine.

I think one of the things that got me so sucked in is that I watched two videos a couple days ago that blew my mind. The first one was nearly seven minutes long and started with an image of water just flowing down a street--nothing scary, barely a trickle, as if someone had dumped a good sized bucket of water somewhere down the road. You could hear the tsunami warnings in the background, too. As the video progressed, the water got higher and higher. Soon there were sounds of breaking glass, and numerous vehicles floated down the street. Then the water was as high as the storefront doorways, and shortly thereafter you started seeing dust as buildings were pulled off their foundations. It was unreal to watch the transformation. At one point, the person taking the video moved to even higher ground, perhaps to maintain their own safety or maybe just to look out over another area. The video was so eerie as there was no talking at all, despite the fact that it had graphics that might indicate it was part of a TV broadcast. The second video was in what I assume was an even harder hit area, as the video started with a huge wave of water already overtaking the city. So many buildings were moving and the water was easily up above the first story right away. The thing that stuck out to me in this video is that at one point the cameraperson turns around and you see some of the people taking refuge up on this mountain...among them a couple kids. And you can see the adults trying to calm the children, which added a whole other dimension to this. Can you imagine being an adult who has to comfort your child through something like that? It's hard enough to compose yourself at a tough moment, let alone figuring out how to get your child through it. I can't even fathom watching the entire area you live in get swept away before your eyes. And for a child who can barely comprehend what just happened, let alone the inevitable "why?", it's just an overwhelming thought. Overall, I think what made these videos so striking is that you see the "before", and it looks so run of the mill. It could be your neighborhood or the downtown area you work in. When you only see the after, it's merely a disaster scene. So when you see that "before", it's a stark reminder that tragedies can happen to anyone.

However, I suppose having to comfort your child in the midst of that is a blessing, as it means you HAVE your child to comfort. I cringe every time I read a story about a child who slipped from their parent's grasp and floated away. Unthinkable. I can't even imagine how panicked I'd be if something of that magnitude happened here, and I was at work and Jacob was at daycare 10 miles away. To not know what happened there, if he was okay, how I was going to get to him...absolutely agonizing. I've been darn near mesmerized by a few pictures that I've seen over the past few days. One was of a woman who gave birth the day it all happened, along with her baby. She appeared to be in a hospital and well cared for, but what a legacy that kid is going to grow up with. Another picture was of the four month old baby girl that the rescuers found on Monday or Tuesday, I believe. She was found among rubble, pretty much untouched and still in her pink full body fleece coat. I can't even fathom what that little girl had been through, somehow surviving amidst the water, then spending all those days and nights alone, without food or her parents' touch. She's so lucky she survived, and her parents had to be beyond ecstatic that she was found. Unreal.

Finally, there was a third picture that I stared at for a long time. It showed a mom and her baby (only a couple weeks old, if that, as I recall) snuggled up together at an evacuation center. The baby was all snuggled in blankets, seemingly fast asleep, and his mother gazed down adoringly at him, smiling. Amidst such a massive disaster, in the middle of one of the least comfortable situations imaginable, she was smiling. Seeing the picture made me think back to how I would have felt if we were in an evacuation center when Jacob was a mere couple weeks old. Would I have been smiling? Somehow I doubt it. I think I'd be more worried about finding a good place to sleep once I finally could, though with all the stress, who can sleep? I'd be thinking about all of the carefully selected and registered for items that had simply floated away, the things I swore I'd need to get through babyhood, now all gone. I don't think I savored my time with Jacob enough as it was in those early weeks, so I can't even imagine how I'd feel under those circumstances.

Even more, I can't help but think about how the idyllic time those mothers looked forward to just evaporated as the waters rose. You spend nine months imagining what life with your newborn is going to be like, and it stinks that they have to spend their babies' first weeks (if not longer) under such dire circumstances. Heck, we spent all of Jacob's first week at the hospital and I still feel like I missed out on a very special time. In the end, that's nothing! It's just sad that this unique and special time has been so irrevocably changed. In addition, I wonder about the future for those babies, and if their parents are fearing for their children's tiny little lives. They're coming into a world in chaos, no doubt at high risk for a lot of problems. Radiation is probably the biggest concern, but I'd have to think there are risks for a lot of other illnesses that can increase when the most basic needs are hard to come by.

I can barely fathom how a society as a whole comes back from something so devastating. Whether it's the physical challenges of clearing out the debris and rebuilding, or the health challenges of finding enough food or water and avoiding radiation, or or the emotional challenges of getting past the fear and keeping things as "normal" as possible for your children, it's a treacherous mountain to climb. Any one of those things alone would have been enough...but all of them? Every time I think about what that country as a whole has to deal with, it's overwhelming. And to think I've been overwhelmed in the past week with Jacob's horrible behavior (one sticker at daycare today...small steps)...in comparison I have it so easy. I can't imagine how I'd do in a real crisis, and I hope that I never have to truly test that. Still, I hope that I'd find inner strength I never knew I had, which I imagine parents all over Japan are discovering each and every day as they navigate their new "normal". Whether they believe in Him or not, I hope God gives them all they need to get through it.

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