Japan’s tsunami showed us the Pacific’s watery hand, reaching ravenously for a country turned toy land, leaving little escape and no recourse. It was so apocalyptic, it almost looked like CGI. Halfway through watching it, it feels so surreal that you think at any moment, the Hollywood version of Perseus should appear and set things right.
It wasn’t that they felt less, certainly not, but that a quiet dignity is worth preserving when all else is gone. The grief is inarguable when the loss is so thorough. There is no one to blame, no one to go after, just an ocean run riot as the earth shuddered. All they have left is themselves. Everyone has nothing.
My friend appreciated the insight and we tsk-tssked our way through the days after as more images appeared and more stories on Japan evolved. I was stopped at a light near Melrose when I saw three Japanese students running up and down the center aisle with, not surprisingly, cutely decorated donation boxes. I waved a few bills, scrounged round my car for more and stuffed what I could in one. They bowed gratefully, repeating arigatos before they had to run off to another car waving money. The light turned green, and I started crying.
I don’t have close friends in Japan, maybe a few vendors who are all fine, and a woman I once met in the Maldives who I’ve since lost touch with. A helpless pity could explain it, maybe tragedy-fatigue. Yet as the days wore on, I started moping around the house between bouts of serious sobbing. Then, one night, I dreamt about my mother.
My mother died two and a half years ago, in another continent I tried to fly to in as little time as possible to catch her before she left. I say left like she’s coming back again. It’s true, there are some days I still hear her call my name, the sound waves etched in my ears forever. Days when I remember her smell, the soft coolness of her always pink palms, something my nanny used to say meant my mother was lucky with money. She was in fact. All those little details stretched over a childhood came crashing down, inside my heart shook. The water rose to my eyes and poured overwhelmingly on my pillow.
Grief is a strange thing, therapists have catalogued its stages, recommended support to deal with it and we are reassured that in time, it will dull then disappear. I’d come back to California after we buried her, back to a life that needed attending to. And like Japan, I picked up what I could quietly. I rarely spoke of it, I couldn’t think of it from the mere fact that I was blank. Who could I go to, to say, give her back? Make it right? Make it the same as before, so I can get on with my life here, a life stunningly different from my mother’s but one she wished for me, since it was so denied her generation. A life that was possible because of her, and the knowing that she was there. Right across the world, waiting, playing her cards by the window, fiery, temperamental, loving, even telling me off when I phoned.
I had quickly learned from losing her that regret is unavoidable. There are a million somethings, tiny and large, anyone could’ve said or done better, or at all if they had never. Always. I wonder now why no one ever told me that so baldly. Likely because it is a painful admission to make.
Death provides no consoling thought that somewhere, whoever or whatever has gone is better off without us. It is rarely a mutual parting. There is no reconciliation, no replacement. The life we thought we knew feels lopsided. There is dust everywhere. Or in Japan’s case, debris and water.
Japan’s tragedy had left me the unexpected gift of remembering mine, because like them I too was speechless after. That silence is a space you cannot imagine others have occupied, but which they invariably have and still do. It is hard to deny that proof when you have an entire country for company.
Soon they will start rebuilding, and one day like me, hopefully start healing.