the land ahead…

Surreal.

While many around me watch with a mixture of fascination & horror as events unfold in Japan, I sit with Mother, discussing her move to Atami. Ironic how she was traveling back to a place filled with disaster when the rest of the world was trying to get out.

‘Sakiko’s relatives are still missing,’ Mina-san said to me at the table, as we tried to enjoy ourselves at Mother’s farewell dinner. ‘Her mother and father are here, but everyone else is back in Miyagi.’

‘Did she grow up there?’ I asked. Sakiko was her colleague and close friend.

‘Yes… it’s her hometown. She received news that her best friend is dead. Her mother can’t eat because her younger brother is still missing, as is the rest of the family. And her father’s entire business was built in Miyagi, so now, he basically has no work to return to.’

The sashimi managed to get stuck in my throat. And that was when our phones beeped. We had set it to receive notifications whenever there was news from Japan.

‘Five minutes ago, there was another earthquake, this time further down south, in Shizuoka.’ I said. ‘The earthquake measured 6.0 in magnitude…’

‘Shizuoka?’ Mother looked up. ‘That’s far away from Miyagi.’ And a little closer to where Mother is going to be in two days’ time. Mina-san quietly began texting on her mobile. Her family was in Kanagawa, a prefecture beside Shizuoka.

‘Is everything okay?’ I asked.

‘It should be. They’ve already suffered the worst on Friday, but I’m just checking to see that they’re all doing well.’ Thankfully, they were. ‘Although my sister just had a massive quarrel with her husband.’

‘Quarrel at a time like this? What happened?’

‘She was pissed that while they – mom and her – were busy hiding from things that could fall, he was snoring on the couch.’ Mina-san laughed.

It felt good then to smile again. Still, this disaster feels too real and it’s getting under my skin. I know these people. I’ve lived with them. Japan is my second home… and to see what’s happening to the country is akin to watching a gang of brutal rapists attack someone you love.

You feel helpless, angry and weepy, all at the same time.

*

Tired of the news footage I’ve seen so far, I decided to browse some pictures that talked about the human plight, strength, resilience and courage. Here are some (of the best) I found from Life. You can click on the pictures to lead you straight to the gallery itself.

Holding On (March 12)
A soldier carries an elderly woman on his back as people are evacuated to a shelter in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture.

Lining Up (March 14)
A mass of people wait to buy food at a grocery store in hard-hit Sendai.

Please Call (March 14)
Thousands are missing in Japan since the quake. Here, a woman posts a message for loved ones at an evacuation center in Natori.
Aftermath
A young survivor surveys the destruction in the northern Japanese city of Ishinomaki, two days after a tsunami ravaged the coast. In the days following the quake, as the waters receded, the nightmarish scale of the destruction became evident: entire towns were, in effect, wiped from the map; cars, buses, homes, people were washed away…

Doing Her Part
Neena Sasaki, 5, carries family belongings from her destroyed home in Rikuzentakata.

Smiles Amid Ruin
A soldier smiles as he holds a four-month-old baby who, along with with her family, survived the tsunami’s devastation in Ishinomaki.
Sharing The Pain
A woman holds her granddaughter at a shelter at Natori.
A Moment To Remember
A man lights a candle in memory of the victims of Japan’s massive March 11, 2011 earthquake in a park in Sendai. It is believed the death count in Japan could reach 10,000.

*

I’ve never been in a nuclear reactor. For those of you like me, here’s a gallery of pictures you can browse (not of those in Japan but a historical walk through) to help make sense of everything happening in the news.

*

Throughout the past few days, Mother hasn’t once lost her cheerful outlook on life. In light of all that’s happened, she’s utterly convinced that heading back to Japan is the right thing to do. And I can’t agree more. If there ever was a time when my grandmother and relatives need her, it’s now.

I can be unselfish about that. She being there would also allow us back here to direct our help in a more focused way. But I’ll miss her ability to laugh at the most dire of circumstances and honestly, Mother is such a beacon of encouragement and light. Am I fearful that I’ll sink into a deep pit of darkness once she goes? A little. My heart has been aching in a million places these past few days – for the people in Japan, for the history that many have lost, and yes… for me. But I’ll manage.

I’m going to miss that spunky, cheeky lady like hell though.

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in transit

‘In the space between chaos and shape there was another chance.’

– Jeanette Winterson

There he sits, surrounded by a group of people he barely knows. Every part of his being longs to find family again but he doesn’t move. Instead, he listens, his senses alert to the new language they speak, the visions they see… He’s already moved on and is now poised to enter the new.

This is where it all begins.

*

She counts the months down to the day she’s leaving. This country was home… may still be home years later, but she doesn’t know yet. One never quite knows how much a part of family you are, till you leave its safe confines.

‘I need to do this. I don’t want to look back with regret wondering… did I miss a chance? Was I too scared to move on? I want to know that I can be on my own, to finally be defined by my present and not by my birth.’

*

He leaves the office, last, as usual. It’s dark out and he stops for a coke at the nearest convenience store, hoping to quell the hunger pangs. Mulling over the piece of work he just completed, it bothers him that it still feels… unfinished. A little like the many things he has to do before he finally moves on from the familiar.

Throwing away the now empty can, he stops thinking about the work and goes in search of someone to have tea with.

Some problems are easier to solve than others.

*

He stands at the railings, looking out over the vast ocean.

War.

What once was a dream, is now his future. He isn’t quite sure what to think but he knows he doesn’t want to be anywhere else. This is what he was made for, the reason he didn’t give up through the months of training.

He is ready.

*

Her room is in disarray. Less than three weeks to go and she hasn’t managed to pack her life into two suitcases. I enter her room and sit on the floor, pulling out random objects from her chaotic piles.

‘Don’t move anything ok? There’s a system… ‘ she warns.

‘System?’ I raise my eyebrows. It hardly looks like any form of organization I’ve seen.

‘You’re looking at a work in progress. Don’t comment now, save them till later,’ Mother smiles.

And inside, I weep.

*

Transitions.

The passage from one form, state, style, or place to another.

It exists in the very words I write on this post. It brings music to a higher state. It’s a problem, a challenge or a creative slant in productions. It’s the moment a team playing defense chooses to play offense.

I used to love transitions. I loved the passage of travel – getting from one place to another, cherishing the time I was left on my own to think. But like my friends whose stories I wrote earlier on, it was always a choice on my part to enter the transition. This time though, I find myself pushed onto a train that’s already gathering momentum too quickly. A train, which destination, I’m not sure of.

And it’s unsettling.

*

I look out the window and all I can see is the past, flashing by. With a deep ache inside, I begin to sniffle. I’m not ready to say goodbye to Mother. I feel small. Insecure.

And that’s when I see His reflection.

‘You’re here!’ I gasp, turning around to look at Him. I stare at His face, drinking in the comfort of His scent. It’s almost unimaginable, the falling away of all pretense at strength. ‘You’re here…’ I begin to cry.

He holds me close.

‘I’m always here.’ He says. ‘Always.’

 

 

grandfather

I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me but no, there they were – five strands of grey hair, carefully etched, like pencil-drawn highlights on an ebony landscape. I carefully searched his face for more signs of aging and sighed in relief; there was nothing else new.

Then he got up from the chair and my heart ached. Very slowly, he eased himself away from the table and began limping away, his hunch just that tiniest bit more pronounced.

‘Please don’t go…’ my heart pleaded, but it was precisely why we were in that meeting today.

We were discussing how we each could rise up to the place where collectively, as a team, we would be able to stand on our own feet, before the year was over. He was being transferred to another branch of the company – for greater responsibilities and his greatest wish was that the team would be able to unite in one heartbeat.

‘I don’t want him to go,’ I whispered to my neighbour.

‘None of us do,’ she replied. ‘Who would defend us, once he’s gone?’

‘That is precisely why he’s toughening us up, getting us to make our own decisions… he knows that once he’s transferred, we need to be strong enough to fight our own battles,’ someone else added.

I sighed.

The grey hairs on his head – I’d never seen them before and today, catching them glint in the light of the setting sun, I realized that time was moving on. And so must I.

*

When I first came to church, I was a beaten, broken girl. Fresh from a tumultuous relationship, still drinking, smoking and clubbing heavily, church was the last place I wanted to be.

I actually grew up in a Christian environment. As a child, I remember walking in the gardens of my old church, waiting for my mother. I recall plucking the flowers in the dark of night, brushing off insects that crawled up my leg, playing with pebbles and hearing the strains of singing waft on the cool air around me.

I accepted Christ when I was four and God was a real friend to me. He was always there – in the night garden – playing with me while the adults worshiped Him.

As I grew older, I felt the weight and burden of being a good person deaden my feet and I stopped seeing God as my night companion. Filtered through the adults’ demand on me needing to live a life of purity, I got angry. It grew worse, year after year. In rebellion, I began to walk down paths – any path – as long as it took me far away from that intimate night garden.

Finally, at 16, I turned to God and yelled at Him. ‘Leave me alone! Let me go to hell, I don’t care. Just leave me alone because I hate this. I hate the hypocrisy of Christians, I hate church and their constant masquerade parties. I don’t care if I die. Just go.’

I stopped going to church after that.

But years later, I found myself walking in to a different church one Sunday morning. Perhaps it was the hunger in me for a God, perhaps it was the desperation of a girl who’d lost everything and knew that there is only one truth. I wasn’t too sure. All I knew was that I sat defiantly on my chair while my insides coiled and cowered in fear of rejection.

When the worship began… the tears started flowing. I have no recollection of what was sung or preached. All I knew was that I’d found home.

The lead musician on the stage that day? It was him – the man I lovingly call Grandfather. He was (and still is) a breath of fresh air in church. When others daren’t speak the truth, he does with no qualms. When others feared being the ‘bad guy’ to make the changes that were needed, he boldly walked right into the fight. When others recoiled from humanity’s ugliness, he stepped forward to embrace the outcasts.

He saw me through the years of change, noted the little sacrifices I made (when no one else did) and tried his best to give something to me, every time he met me. He disciplined me, scolded me, loved me and built me up. Through every mistake I’d ever made, his one constant refrain was, ‘I never doubted your heart…’

Oh he knew I loved God and loved being in church, but he went one step deeper than any other leader had ever done, he understood the frailty of my weaknesses and he judged me no less for that. He never stopped believing in me.

These days, I rarely see him around anymore (as he’s already started on his new portfolio) but he still impacts me greatly. I’ll never stop letting him have that special place to speak into my life. Why? Because… I want to be like him.

‘Why must things be so hard? Why do we need to go through these challenges?’ Softspeaker once asked her husband.

‘Maybe God’s training you, training the team,’ her husband replied.

‘Training us to do what?’ she whined.

‘To be like your leader – a man fearless of other men’s opinions,’ he replied.

Fearless. I like that.

And in honour of the man who walked out the room today, I will stand tall.

I will fly.

Even if it hurts to say goodbye.