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 glass. And we hold that magnifying glass still over a tiny spot of the driest grass possible, until the tiniest bit of smoke arises and then the the tiniest little spark begins to emerge, 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.
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 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 rooves 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. Fortunately, I have managed to keep just outside these troubled spots myself.
When natural disasters 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 begin to switch off their TV sets or 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. If the world’s going to end on December 21st, the day after your mother’s birthday, and four days before Christmas, why do anything at all? Hey, guys, I am just glad just to see 2013. Thanks guys in the media for all of the upbeat stories. That was really wonderful. Sure helped the way I was feeling. .
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, our eyes blinking open, shut, open, shut, until the end of times.
Truthfully, I had never felt at home in this world. I had an email address, two web addresses, a place of residence, I owned two parks, and I lived in a city of angels, but I had never felt at home. A neo Luddite at heart, I was never at home with all of this new social media. Sometimes, I couldn’t even get into my email address. With other stuff, I had to ask my wife: Honey, what’s my address, what’s the password,what’s my used name again. Sometimes all of my homepages seemed locked to me.
So here’s what you get to do. I remembered 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 in paper planes. 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, suit.
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.
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. I felt like we were Adam and Eve in the first garden. My wife helped me dress myself and after that I had a shave. I felt clean, freshly scrubbed al lover
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, honey,” I said with great urgency.
As we left our small apartment, with my dog in his box, my outer surroundings seemed quite foreign to me. Everything in my world seemed alien. 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, return home and then to go to Church. As we walked, I noticed people looking at me a little strangely. Hey, what is it, I thought, as I looked down at my shoes. No, they’re both still. Lets just take this one step at a time, I thought, as my feet beat out their tired rythm upon the concrete path. It’s all just stuff. The glare of the sun on the scrapers caught my eye and blinded my vision, for a heartbeat or two. I have no home, in this world of simulation, in this world full of shiny, metallic stuff.
“Hi, Satoko,” I said. “Where are we? Where’s the shogi shop.”
“What’s wrong with you,” she said, “You look a little pale. You’re scaring me.”
“Oh, hi Master,” I said as a coffee shop approached. I remember the day I asked this old man to teach me how to play his game. It was one of my favorite haunts.
Master, as usual, smiled his old man’s smile full of pearly whites.
I bent down and placed Seraph gently into his wifes arms. She laughed the way she always does.
“Mild seven, Master. Matches.”
Master reached over to grab me a box and a broken, used up lighter. I flicked at it. “Thanks, Master.”
“Four hundred yen,” he said, “thank you very muuuch,” he said as always.
“Keep the change,” I said as I pocketed all my stuff.
“Serachan, come here,” and I hed him to my chest as we began to walk away.
“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. Sweat the small stuff but be prepared to leave it all behind, even the law, even the family.”
I smiled at the commotion that buzzed around me and overhead. I smiled at the sea of faces. 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 end of the very world. 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. I smiled and waved hello. Where are they going? Why this mad rush? I wandered to myself.
We asked a couple of questions. “Where can we cross the street?” I asked one man. That alone seemed of importance. He pointed us to a signal. 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.
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.
I heard music in my mind. Two CDs were playing at once. The metallic and eerie and electronic, thrum of the Future Sound of London crossed purposes with the jangly guitars, of U2’s Rattle and Hum. I tried to turn off my music player, but the batteries had already run down and the machine had shut off.
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?”
Before 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 slow a still moving
“Why are you doing this?” my wife 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 towards the Holy Theophany church. The first building was a small house like building constructed in 1972 and situated near Kawana, in the other direction from my house. About five years ago, completion on a new building, more closely resembling the architectural style was finally completed 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 Grant. I really shouldn’t be here and I really shouldn’t be doing this but I want to talk to someone. Please take care of me. I was born into the Uniting Church in Brisbane, Australia. I have only been here once before. I have been to Catholic churches. I have been to Tibetan monasteries and I have been to Zen temples. But I’ve never found my home.. My wife is from Japan, I am from Australia and my brother’s wife is from China. I’ve been to all of these coun tries. I have lived with Koreans in Korea and Australia, but I’ve never found a home. I have slept on streets, and in parks, and I have been to places I would never wish to live again, but I’ve never found my home. I have worked for seven companies, but I’ve never found my home. Is there anybody home?”
Having tired long before, I was now sat in a cross legged posture and I gingerly got to my feet. And I turned around and walked away. I saw a bottle of water, maybe it was for the little plants, to help them grow. And I picked it up and walked back down the garden path.
Where’s my wife? Satoko? Seraph? Are you guys still at home…