We had little way of knowing, when I was writing last week, what twists and turns the situation in Japan would take. We knew that nuclear reactors were damaged; we had no idea that meltdowns might be in the offing. We knew that the loss of life was great; we did not know how great. And who would have thought that the Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, would see the tsunami as a divine punishment to wash away Japan's "egoism" (he has, subsequently, apologized for such a statement). I read about that statement, and within a couple of days I read the following:
Snapshots from Japan: A woman opens up her home and bathrooms to weary travelers walking hours home. A baker gives out free bread. Customers at the supermarket pick up fallen items and quietly stand in line to buy food. An old man at the evacuation shelter asks, "What's going to happen now?" And a young high school boy nearby responds, "Don't worry! When we grow up, we will promise to fix it back!" *
I was so happy to read of these kinds of actions. I was also moved to read the response of the high school boy. He embodies a sort of optimism that characterizes a portion of the population of any country, at any time, but that often gets pushed aside by the "wisdom" of us older folks. It doesn't seem to me that Japan has to wait until that boy "grows up"; he's fixing it now!
We needn't wait. And we needn't simply think in terms of tragedies like this earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis. There are situations surrounding us all of the time that may require little more than a kind word to "fix it back".
I was perusing a particular website the other day, and reading some of the commentators whose work populated it. I was dumb-founded at how often the word "fear" appeared. Editorial pages are filled with fear-mongering and cynicism. "Hunker down!" they seem to cry out! "Build your shelter! (whether underground or tax). "Save yourselves!"
As much as the Japanese (wisely) did to protect themselves against earthquakes and tsunamis, the magnitude of this quake overwhelmed them. And, now, we're seeing a different side of human nature emerge: fear is giving way to mutual assistance. A renewed community is being forged.
When reminded in such a powerful way of how power-less we actually are, we are almost forced to return to one of those most fundamental of virtues: care for others-even those we do not know.
"Redeem the time". Tikkun olam (Hebrew for "repair the world"). "Compassion for all living creatures." "Open hands, not clenched fists."
"Fix it back!" Promise? There are so many ways to do so! How many can we think of? How many might we do?