March 18, 2011

Earthquake Existentialism

Credit: CNN
Since the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan, I have been astonished and touched by the global outpouring of concern and compassion for Japan. On a personal level, that has trickled down in the form of numerous emails and Facebook messages from my family, friends and acquaintances back home and elsewhere around the globe. Thanks for reaching out to us—we are most grateful.

Here’s how it all began for me. Last Friday, March 11, I got a call at my desk from Mr. H., a manager working at my company’s office in Tokyo:
 “Hi, we’re experiencing a major earthquake right now, and I’m calling from underneath my desk. Please tell everyone to watch TV and monitor the situation, because the power may go out, but tell them we are OK so far,” he said in a very calm, measured tone. Just the facts.  Needless to say, I passed the message on, but my workplace was already consumed by activity, with half the people raptly watching the bank of TVs that are affixed to a wall, while the other half were on the telephone.

Hardest-hit areas are in northeastern Japan. Map credit: Google maps
That first encounter with the earthquake has set the tone for the Rising Family’s response over the last seven days: levelheaded and careful. We have that luxury because we live about 1,000 kilometers from the areas which were devastated by the terrible triad of the earthquake, tsunami and potential nuclear disaster.

Certainly the initial scenes of shaking buildings, falling glass and panicked office workers filing out onto city streets were disturbing. These were soon followed by more videos of the tsunami wiping out a number of towns or small cities, taken by bystanders and soon posted on YouTube, which showed that we are all still very much at the mercy of nature. Then the ante was raised again, with a slow, collective churning of the stomach all week long caused by the specter of nuclear contamination which was relentlessly covered – some might call it scaremongering – by some of the world’s media. Through it all, my main source of information (with which I might have had to make some serious decisions) and communicate was the Internet: Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and even LinkedIn. Not the TV news, not the telephone. I daresay this is now the norm for many other people, too.
My experience has been that most people in Hiroshima, spared the catastrophe of up north and not directly threatened by any impending radioactive plumes, have been coping through a mixture of self-discipline, resilience, patience, and guilty relief that we were not directly affected. But the last week has certainly caused some introspection and “what if?” thoughts. It has been humbling, but just today I felt that we are moving forward again.

No comments: