Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Unimaginable

The scope of what's happened in Japan is unimaginable. It'll be days, perhaps weeks, before we have a real sense of it.

As the news comes in, the impulse will be to go to statistics, and the early statistics are hair-raising.

One-half of the 17,000 people living in the town of Minamisanriku are missing.

One-third of the 74,000 people living in the city of Kesennumaya are missing.

The town of Iwate, with a population of 23,000, has been destroyed.  No one has a count yet.

Wooden Japan, in towns like Natori (above) and Sendai is aflame.  Ironically, wooden structures generally seem to have sustained less damage from the earthquake than concrete structures, but were swept away like matchboxes in the tsunami and have gone up like tinder in the gas fires that followed.

The main structure of the nuclear plant at Fukushima exploded, but at the time I'm writing this, no one knows whether the explosion presages a meltdown of the core. Nor can anyone predict what will happen to one other, almost equally compromised, plant.  Officials say they'll be giving out doses of iodine soon to help ward off thyroid cancer.

That fact seems to me to be almost infinitely sad.  In the aftermath of forces so great they threw thousand-pound shipping containers around like toys, doses of iodine will be passed out.
And yet maybe that's the best possible response.  Do what's necessary -- do what can be done -- as calmly and graciously as possible.

Already, some grocery stores in the less-devastated areas are open.  They're imposing unofficial daily rationing, selling off only so much of their stock every day to make it last until new supplies can be delivered.  People are queuing up politely, taking what they can get.  There has been not one report of looting or post-quake predation of any kind.

Because so many cell towers went down, two television stations opened their doors to people who waited hours in line for a chance to step before the camera and take thirty seconds or less to send an appeal to the ones they couldn't find or hadn't heard from.  Please be safe, they say.  Please get in touch when you can.
No one seems to have exceeded the thirty seconds.

After the Kobe quake, even the Yakuza set up booths and tables to give away food and water. There was no looting. Out of the inestimable horror of this event, perhaps Japan will remind us what it can mean to be human, and that Hemingway was right when he defined courage as grace under pressure.

And for what it's worth, I send them my prayers.

Tim -- Sunday


  1. Whose blog is this? Gorgeous and overwhelmingly sad, visually the perfect parallel of the ideas the words convey. Like the dignity of the Japanese people in the face of such devastation, each photo communicates awful destruction and a vision of beauty. Is there a more horrifying word than "horrifying.". Is there a more poetic word than "poetic.". Thank you annonymous poet for expressing in words and pictures what my heart needed to see and hear.

  2. Sorry, Annamaria -- It's Tim. I've been pretty upset the past few days.

  3. I thought it might be you! Needless to say I have been upset, too. I know people who are glued to their TVs, watching the coverage. I can't take it for more than a couple of minutes at a time. I can listen on the radio more, but watching is too awful. But your post is beautiful. It seems an inappropriate thing to say considering what it describes, but it is only word I have to communicate how it made me feel. Not taking away the horror, but still soothing my soul. Balm in Gilead.