Pretty much every day as we build relationships here we are hearing stories of the tsunami. I am still taken by the many heroes who are here in our midst – who risked their own lives for another; who cared for the needy; who showed love in the midst of great danger. I would like to at times share with you some of the heroes I am encountering — I hope in this small way to honor them. You will never know their names; and unless I have their permission you won’t even see their pictures – but it helps me to process these experiences as well as to help all of us not to forget.
Here are just a few hero glimpses:
- On Sunday morning I took Ian with me to visit a family I got to know briefly last summer during my first visit here. Be One helped to fix up their home; their 20-year old daughter A. and a friend hung out with me at a BBQ. I found out that A.and her friend have both since gotten married at the justice of the peace; her friend’s official ceremony was just this past Saturday; A’s will be in August. Many couples, like these two, held off their weddings for a year in deference to the year of grieving. I asked A’s mother if she approves of her new son-in-law. She proudly told me the story– that after the tsunami, when he couldn’t get in touch with A. and her family, he got on his bike the next day and rode through high water, debris, and areas with no roads about 20 kilometers to check on her family. Then, he took A’s grandparents with him back to his small apartment for several months because their home was washed away. I can’t wait to meet this guy!
- Olivia’s kindergarten teacher… I had a parent/teacher conference, and it was then that A-Sensei told me her story… She was on the school bus taking children home when the earthquake hit. The bus followed protocol and returned to the school, when A-Sensei got a text from her mom saying that a tsunami was coming. She quickly told the other staff, and they gathered all of the remaining kids and boarded the bus and headed to the mountains. They had no cell phone or any contact with the outside world. Snow was falling, and the children were quite cold, so they cautiously brought the bus down the mountain and went to the evacuation center near their kindergarten — a junior high school with a 3rd story. They took all the kids up there, tore down curtains to help keep them warm, and stayed for the night. The next morning, mothers who didn’t know if their children were alive or not began swimming from their homes to the school in freezing cold, dangerous waters to get to the children – water above their chest. A-Sensei did not know if her parents and brother were alive or not. It wasn’t until a day later that she was able to leave her post and get to their home in the mountains. Her parents had been in another city on the coast, and were able to survive at a higher floor, but their car was washed away. They swam home twenty kilometers because it was the only way they could be sure if their two children were alive. They were finally reunited several days after the tsunami. As A-Sensei told me this story, I reached out, grabbed her hand, and thanked her for the wonderful care she took of all the children, putting their needs before her own. She broke down crying. Everyone just did what they had to, she said. I told her she is is amazing. She is still traumatized by those two days, and cannot go near water.
- Today I heard the story of a mom who was trying to get back to her house before the tsunami came. She had a friend in the car, whose family was also waiting. She dropped the friend off at home first, and then proceeded to try and make it back to her home. She didn’t beat the tsunami; she was killed in her car. Her husband and 3-year old boy waited on the roof of their home for 24 hours, until the water went down. I saw his picture – it breaks my heart. What a friend she was!
- Today Owen and I had our first play date – a boy in his class who he likes to play with at school, and his mom, who I’ve really enjoyed talking with while waiting for our boys to get off the bus. They both came over, and we all had a great time. She is a single mom… She spent nearly two hours telling us her story from 3/11 and the following days- pretty amazing. Their home is RIGHT on the water (we went and hung out there afterwards – it is RIGHT on the water!) – but it was built well and is one of the few homes in that whole area remaining. Her parents and brother survived on the second floor. She went to the school after she heard the warning to check on her son, but then decided to try and drive to her home and check on her parents right on the water. On the way,though, she saw the water coming, and ditched her car, running all the way back to the elementary school. Over three hundred children were in the gym. Many had been stuffed up on the balcony of the gym, but the majority were on the floor of the gym. They had the door to the ocean open, with teachers watching anxiously. Our friend Y. was coming from the opposite direction- the side of the river – and she realized that they didn’t know the tsunami was coming from both directions. She quickly went and shut the gymnasium doors, just seconds before the water starting coming. One of the other nearby schools lost all of the children in the gymnasium because the water rushed in and the kids couldn’t get out. All of the kids in this gymnasium were safe. She was able to hold her fourth grade son through the worse of the tsunami, and protected him from seeing the terrible images that many children still have in their minds. They returned home a day or two later. When the kids were finally able to go to a temporary school in May, Y. had to carry her son on her back through thigh- to-waist high water every day – there was still no electricity or running water at that time, and the water in their area had still not receded. She actually was put on the news as a newscaster found out about their “hidden village” where people were living even though their homes were in bad shape and the flooding was terrible.
Y.’s sister heard on the news that most of the people who lived in Y’s small area had been killed. With a very sad heart, she drove through the mountains for many hours to get to their home, assuming that her parents and sister had been killed and she was going to bring Y’s son home from the school evacuation center. She was overjoyed to find them all alive, and had brought some much-needed supplies. Y. ended up cooking on cinderblocks outside of their home, and took food around to the neighbors stuck in their homes. She is still caring for the elderly man who lives on the second floor next door – he has left the first floor just the same as it was the day after the tsunami. She took care of her three-year old neighbor’s son for awhile after the mother did not return home (previous story). Her previous company was washed away, so she is tutoring children part-time after school to try and earn a small living. We are going to have our two oldest go this Friday and see how that works out – they can use some extra help in Japanese! Her son had a great time here building Legos with Owen- all of his Legos, and other toys had washed away. But she said they were just so happy to be alive… Her home has been condemned, and they will not be allowed to rebuild there, but it continues to be their home for now. She is quite an amazing woman- I am looking forward to learning much from her!