by Alma R. H. Reyes
LIVING IN THE DARK
For sure, so many writers of Jeepney Press will be talking about the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami the same way the September 11 shook the entire world. Suddenly, the past months have seen gloom on so many people’s faces in Japan: gas stations closed for sometime; some bank ATM machines not operating for sometime; supermarkets, office buildings, department stores, electronic stores, pharmacies, train stations turned dark and gloomy due to power conservation—less ceiling lights on, lower-powered heaters (despite the current 12 C climate last March)—not to mention, less commodities in shelves empty from day to night, each single day; some descending escalators no longer running (only ascending escalators) so that people can use the stairs instead when going down; five out of ten turnstiles in train stations blocked to save power; some TV screens inside trains black; less running elevators in buildings to save power; big flashing screens on the buildings of Shibuya, Ueno, Shinjuku turned off after six p.m.; maybe four out of six aisles in supermarkets lit; and so many other drastic changes that have given us a new Japan either to be sorry for or to sympathize with.
There are so many sad stories of families in Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, and other affected regions that flash on daily news that I cannot even begin to relate them with any absence of helplessness. All I have done for this horrible crisis is to send off a box of mineral water and offer small monetary donations, but none of those gestures seemed justifiable to truly extend my compassion for all those who continue to suffer in their hearts. I wished I could be as brave as those workers in the nuclear plant who risked their lives dumping water on the reactors to cool them. I wished I could travel to Fukushima or Sendai and work in one of those evacuation centers. Yet, how many of us would be so prepared to face the risk of death?
The global phenomenon we all observed in this disaster is that every single person on this earth seemed to be focused on only one thing: how not to risk death. People panicked for food because they wanted to go on living; people hoarded for mineral water because they were afraid to be contaminated with radioactivity; people wore masks, sunglasses and hats because they were afraid of radiation rays; people purchased potassium iodide frantically online even without knowing what it was really for; foreigners fled Japan immediately when the nuclear plants exploded—all these, to protect our own lives; to overcome the fear of dying, of losing the life we don’t even know how to value and nurture in the truest sense. Such is the irony of being human.
Some people said there were lessons to be learned from this horrific catastrophe. The Japanese, being so loose and sometimes, abusive with their wealth, have now learned the scars of desperate living: low on electricity, water, food and losing loved ones. We really didn’t need that much light and that much power. There is so much waste in Japan that most regular Japanese consumers are so unaware of because life for them has been running on a one single pattern repeated over and over in time that most Japanese really do not know how to deviate from.
At some point we all realized it was good that there were power cuts because now we can save energy and learn to live more simply, but would Japanese really prolong this frugal life for long? Forever? Or, did we just forget that Japanese people (especially the young generation), having been so rooted on luxurious, comfortable living could not help being respected members of the first world countries at par with the luxurious and comfortable living of the US and Europe? If you have lived in Japan as long as I have, it really remains doubtful if Japanese could ever accept in the truest and sincerest sense that life was meant to be nothing but simple.
FLIGHT OF THE "FLYJIN"
So, I left Japan during the crisis. Yes, I did. I was one of those “flyjins” who yearned eagerly to board on one of those savior planes out of the country. My ticket out of Japan though was planned way ahead in mid-February due to family reasons. It just seemed timely that I made use of the ticket when the crisis came. Like most “flyjins,” once I boarded the plane out, I felt I could breathe…breathe fresh “normal” air, and not the so-called contaminated air. When I landed in Manila, I was longing to be there…and be there for good. There were many jokes among Filipinos about my “pasalubongs” being tainted with radiation. The radiation scare was also felt in the Philippines, and one day there was news that the air around the Philippine atmosphere was tainted with radiation that a friend of mine came to meet me with an umbrella over her head, afraid to be hit by radioactivity. Even for just two short weeks, I savored many peaceful nights without aftershocks, many bright days without having to hurry to the grocery to get the last piece of bread, pack of eggs, carton of milk, or last 2-liter bottle of mineral water. I didn’t have to sleep in my day clothes worrying about the intensity of the next aftershock. I didn’t have to wear a mask outdoors. Life just seemed the way it should be, yet amidst the suman, green mango shake, buko, and beaches, I knew far too well that this life, the way it should be, would not last long once I return to Japanese soil.
If people are so worried and stressed about how each day pushes itself to the future, that would be useless mind-boggling over what we could simply do TODAY to live our own lives to the best and the fullest, and to humbly accept whatever arises under whatever circumstance. As they say, man cannot control nature. Man cannot even control God. And, I do believe that is the only way, in this time of so much uncertainty and restlessness, to live with a peaceful mind and heart.
God bless All!