Meanjin in voluntary exile: a story

Revisioning my story.  I am going to construct this story, bit by bit, day by day, remaking it, rebuilding it until I have finally written this story.  I write on behalf of and in solidarity with those poor people left homeless, houseless, in shock and exile, as a result of the 2011 disaster.  My goal is to win funding and attention for the poor of this area.  They know a level of pain that is a magnification of the pain inside all of us.  The first place prize is $1599.  I say lets use this competition to raise the tide of awareness and unlimited funding for the victims of this terrible tragedy.  Let’s plant mustard seeds of faith, hope, charity, love and solidarity in this area.  I would like someone to start a website called mustard seeds, which only contains stories about people from this area of Japan.  Its like the rays of the sun.  To use the power of the suns rays we need a magnifying glasses.  And we hold that magnifying glass still over a tiny spot of the driest grass possible, untilspread, the tiniest bit of smoke arises and then the the tiniest little spark begins to cemerge, and then it spreads like wildfire.  In this case, we are a vessel for love, and we will hold our vision, our focus, and our hearts still enough to provide the very opposite of fire: water.  We will put the fire out, and water this tiny area of this tiny country with our tears.  Or we could, if only we allowed ourselves a few less distractions in our lives.

THE PARADE

1)    PROLOGUE: HARSH REALITIES

Sunday, March 10th, 2013 was one day shy of the second anniversary of the disaster at Fukushima and Tohoku.

On March 11, 2011 the world watched in stunned silence as images flooded living rooms across the globe of of the greatest Japanese natural disaster since, perhaps, 1923.  On that day an estimated 20 000 Japanese citizens lost their lives as the result of the 20m high walls of water that swept through the North East coast of Japan.  Fear and worry increased later as news spread of a possible nuclear meltdown at the TEPCO nuclear power plants in Fukushima.

Most Japanese people will probably have their own story as to where exactly they were that day.  I know exactly where I was- (I was) in the community centre at Okazaki teaching English to kindergartners and elementary school students.  It was my friend, and assistant teacher, Atsushi who gave me the news.

“There’s been an earthquake up near Fukushima,” he told me.

“Where is that exactly?” I wondered.

To be honest, I’d never heard of it before.  News of earthquakes, typhoons, and similar happenings are quite common in Japan.  After a while, one tends not to take them too seriously.

I look back and smile at the Brazilian fortune teller who predicted that, without a shadow of a doubt, a major earthquake was to hit Okazaki itself, near where I live.  This sensational portent of doom was, for some reason, broadcast on Japanese public television.  Consequently, whole families went survivalist, buying up food stocks, flashlights the like, jumping in their cars and heading to the hills.  Because of such occurrences, I had tended to take all of the talk of earthquakes with more than a pinch of salt.  But, not so funnily enough, this time was different, this one was serious.  I found out after concerned friends and family called me up to check on my safety.

What’s more, this came on the back of the severe flooding that struck South East Queensland during the Christmas holidays of 2010 and early 2011.  I had gone back to Australia for the first time in maybe 3 years only to find that most of the places I had lived in Australia were either underwater or soon to be.  I remember seeing footage of the people of Bundaberg wading through flooded streets, rowing boats to get supplies or waiting on their roves to be evacuated.  The three weeks I spent in Ipswich and Brisbane were days filled with torrential rains but nothing serious happened until I returned to Japan.  Two days after my return, waves began sweeping through shopping centers in Toowoomba where my sister Helen lives, large parts of Brisbane were washed away and the roads between Brisbane and Ipswich were closed as bull sharks began to roam the streets.  Somehow, I have had the happy knack of keeping just outside these danger zones myself.  But one does begin to wonder.

When natural disters occur, some people appear to the world to have left the tragedy behind, to have dismissed it from their minds.  More and more coverage of the problem only seems to dull the awareness.  People literally begin to switch off- their TV sets- and to turn their attention to other channels, where the blanket coverage continues.  In the mad rush of competition between the networks to get the best story, compassion fatigue is born.  We are so accustomed to this negative media that fatalism becomes confused with acceptance and apathy clothes itself as normalcy.  Why do anything if the world’s going to end in 2012.  Hey, guys, who is glad just to see 2013.  Thanks guys in the media for all of those the world is going to end on October 21, 2012.  That was really wonderful.  That was really great.  Sure helped the way I was feeling.  I just couldn’t wait for that year to end.

II) THE PARADE

With all of that backstory behind me, let’s fast forward again to the city of Nagoya, a day short of two years later.  The day began with my eyes opening to see my wife and dog in my bed with me.  Oh, great, that’s right, we’re the last robot family now.  What we get to do is walk around this depopulated planet, the last people on Earth.

Truthfully, I have never felt at home in this world.  I have an email address, two web addresses, a place of residence, I own two parks, and I live in a city of angels, but I never feel at home.  A neo Luddite at heart, I don’t really feel like I am a t home with all of this new social media.  Sometimes, I can’t even get into my email address.  With other stuff, I have to ask my wife, Honey, what’s my address, what’s the password,what’s my (user) name again. Sometimes all of my homepages seem locked to me.  Honey, what’s the password.  These guys want my phone number again, so that they can reset my password, is that okay with our privacy policy?  Do you mind.

So here’s what you get to do, Grant, I remember thinking.  What you get to do now is walk the streets with your wife and your dog; watch all of the movies in the world;; drive to coastal areas whenever you want; and watch your little dog grow old before you and your wife settle down into the sunset of old age as the last humans left on earth.  I honestly believed I was living in a movie, or a dream or even a computer game in which everyone else on earth had flown off to explore the rest of the galaxy.  I must have been completely tired, drained and overstrained because, God, that’s some pretty crazy stuff to think and actually BELIEVE.

I remember my wife telling me that my family was coming to visit me.  At least, I think she said that.  She also said that none of my thoughts were real.  I remember that morning her telling me to sleep, and me wheezing away with my smoker’s cough, my chest struggling to rise and fall, thinking if I go to sleep now I will die.  Her fear was if I didn’t I would go stark, raving, (finally) mad.  I can honestly say I don’t know how far I was from either of those things.  Because when the spirit dies , the body often follows.  Hasn’t anyone read Viktor Frankl?  Don’t you guys know anything? (Like the doll in Spielberg and Kubrick movie.)

So, I thought to myself, I know who I am now.  I’m the god of concrete logic.  The most logical thing for me to do right now is to get up, make a coffee, go outside and have a cigarette.  Wait for signs of life.  Well, blue skies, that’s good.  Look at those birds.  Aren’t they beautiful.  Oh, I see cars now- there’s probably someone inside.  Ah, that’s right.  My wife is and she’s waiting for me.

(Pretty soon, I’m going to start laying down some pretty thick religious symbolism, so if that bothers or offends you, you might want to do something else.  Like listen to some Nick Cave or something or read something by Cormac McCarthy, or just go and read a book about a whale like Moby Dick, or even get out some good Vonnegut like Cat’s Cradle.  Oh, sorry, there’s religious symbolism in a lot of art.)

My wife and I sat down in the bath for the first time in many years.  She washed me and I washed her and we washed away all our sins.  (That’s enough for now with the religious symbolism, might be a bit more just around the corner, though.)  And then we got dressed to go out for the day, after I had had a shave.

“What do you want to do today?” my wife asked me. “We can go for a drive to the ocean if you want or we can just go to church?”

“I want to go to church, Satoko,” I said with great urgency.

As we left our small apartment, with my dog in his box, my outer surroundings seemed quite weird to me.  Helicopters could be seen flying in the distance and the wind blew up a gale.  The plan was to go to the park at Tsurumai and then at 3 o’clock to go to the church at the Mikokoro Centre.  It didn’t quite turn out that way.  As we walked, I noticed people looking at me a little strangely

“Grant, you remember your signals, don’t you?” I thought.  “Smile when you have to.  Do the little things right.  Put your cigarette butts in the bin.  But always be prepared to break the law, to break allegiance with your family if it’s for a good enough cause.”

The cause was protection and safety for the city that had sheltered me for almost two years.  As we passed the subway station, I noticed quite a commotion.  People were running back and forth, little children of all ages, mothers and fathers, madly, crazily, while helicopters beat their metallic wings, helpless to protect us.  It felt like a cross between a mardi gras and the way 2012 could have been if the world was really ending.  It also felt very Japanese .  The colours of all the runners seemed so random.  Blues and yellows, whites and greens.  It felt like Cosplay on the streets.  We asked a couple of questions, the most pertinent being, “Where can we cross the street?”  He pointed us to a signal.

My wife was holding my hand and my boy walked between us.  The last family on the late, great planet Earth.  At least that’s the way the movie was cast within my mind.  In this manner, we continued our quiet Sunday stroll in the city I live in, where the streets have no name.

(Honestly, if this wasn’t scripted, someone needs to get their stuff together and do so quickly.  It’s funny, sweet, unique and even romantic.  There’s even a dog, just like a little Lassie.We7ve got some music we could play as accompaniment..  Either something really metallic and eerie and electronic, like the Future Sound of London or the quiet rattle and hum of U2 in the background.  AND, there’s no swearing (not bloody yet, anyway).  Where are all of the anime guys?  We could do this if we wanted.)

So we turned the corner, and walked towards the park.  I felt like I was part of the countdown, so I checked my watch.  It was about 11: 30.  Twelve o’clock was fast approaching.  Not too much time to dawdle.  I tried to hail down the people in the cars driving along the asphalt.  Please help me.  Where am I supposed to go?  I asked the ones that were driving towards me.  Can you help me to the Mikokoro Center? I asked the motorists who were driving away.

“What do you need right now?” was a question that ran through all my mind.  I need to ask the children, “Where am I supposed to go?”

As we reached the park, passing by a familiar church, I said “Satoko, let me do this.  Please let me do this.  Please let go of my hand.”

She had clasped my hand quite tightly and seemed afraid to let me go.  Suddenly, I unleashed her hand and jumped the barricades and tried to stop a slow moving
car.

“Why are you doing this?” she cried out to me.

I knew the real answer but didn’t speak it aloud: Because there are times in one’s life where you have to be prepared to sacrifice not only oneself, but one’s family also.  As I am only one individual in a sea of billions of others, more or less just like me, so is my own particular family just one family amongst countless others.

“Because this is bigger than you and me.  This is about the world,” I finally replied.

THIS WORLD ON FIRE, my silent sentence.

Then I ran into the NAME church.  A Russian Orthodox church, the Church of Ascension is part of the Diocese of the …  The first building was a small house like building constructed in , situated near Kawana, in the other direction from my house.  In 200?, completion on a new building, more closely resembling the architectural style… was finally completed.

I had only been inside this new building once or twice before, although I had frequented the church more frequently at its old location.  But I believe in second chances.

“I just want to pray for guidance,” I said, leaving my wife near the entrance.  I knocked on the door and at first there was no answer.  Finally, the door slid open and I stepped inside.  The room was quite dark and lit by a single candle.  Very little natural light penetrated that holy sanctuary.  I observed the beautiful icons that stooped down to the level of my poor understanding.  In totality, the icons seemed to tell a single story of God in all his mercy acting eternally in friendship with all of creation.  I quietly acknowledged the presence of the saints with whom I was familiar.  Then I knelt down to say a prayer that went something like this:

“Hello, God.  My name is Garant.  I really shouldn’t be here and I really shouldn’t be doing this but I want to pray on behalf of the human race.  Please take care of us.  I was born into the Uniting Church in Brisbane, Australia.  I have been to Tibetan monasteries and I have been to Zen temples.  I’ve only been here a few times before but please have mercy upon all of us.  Have mercy upon my race.  My wife is from Japan, I am from Australia and my brother’s wife is from China.  He is a scientist.  I know people from many different parts of the world.  I have been to Korea, China and Japan.  No matter who you are or what you believe in, that’s okay to me  You can believe in God, or the Buddha, or the Dharma, or in science.  You can believe in no-God if you think that is best.  But my name is Grant, and I believe in life, as we all do I think, and I ask that you would help all of us in this world of pain and suffering as well as new creation.  Please help us.”

Having tired long before, I was now sat in a cross legged posture and I gingerly got to my feet.

III) AN INTERLUDE ON MEANING

The world sees such people as afflicted with madness.  But, throughout the ages, the church has seen some of these individuals as fools for God’s sake.  The symbol is, I believe, universal.

In Tibetan Buddhism, some rare individuals are revered for possessing, or being possessed by a a kind of “crazy wisdom”.  One such man was Chogyam Trungpa, a still slightly controversial figure whose story can be found in other sources.  Zen stories abound with the irrational and the paradoxical.  Sometimes, I’ll freely admit, I find it hard to penetrate their meaning.  There is one story, though, that has always touched my heart.  It is said that Hakuin, who started the Rinzai Zen sect in Japan, raised an illegitimate child as his own, after falsely declaring himself the father.

One also thinks of Sufism, and all of that traditions crazy lovers of God.  The dance of the whirling dervishes hints at an ecstatic trance that takes a person far away from the prison of the self.  There are also those in that tradition known as the blameless ones.  These people are said to disregard prohibitions, but as the friends of God, are held to be without blame.

In popular literature, such figures are also not unknown.  The formative image for me is Boo Radley in the book, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  Boo is a spectral figure in the novel, and a source of much gossip within the town.  At the novel’s beginning, Boo is the stuff of eerie nightmares for the young protagonists.  But, by novels conclusion, its clear that Boo is truly a blameless one.  Little sighted and a recluse, Boo is notorious for drinking from bottles in brown paper bags.  In reality, Boo just used the paper bag to enjoy one of life’s smaller freedoms- the freedom to be left alone.

IV) DREAM, pt 1 continued.

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