My friend Val, from Elos Institute in Brazil wrote me recently:
I love your questions about what can be done right now, what are the possible solutions. Yesterday I attended a philosophy class and people’s perspectives about the world were so dark and hopeless… I immediately remembered of you and other people giving a step towards what you believe can be done to make things better. I would like to hear what are the things that are being done now. I remember wrote about an afternoon with Bob in which people wrote down the questions they wanted you to answer: it was very clear for me how this kind of conversation can make space for healing and care in a community. People are looking for inspiration and hope that the world is worthy and so are the human beings.
Val asked that I write something for Elos’s newsletter for Warriors Without Weapons along these themes and I realized if might be something good to write for others as well.
Imagine waking up one morning to your normal life and its routines. Imagine that by day’s end, your normal life has vanished — toppled in an earthquake, washed away by a tsunami, hammered by invisible radiation. Or imagine that you’re in a downtown office building in Tokyo, ten miles from your home. The building sways back and forth and things begin to pile on the floor. Eventually it quiets and you make your way downstairs to the street which is dark, filled with people and cars, and the trains are no longer moving. Imagine you are hundreds of miles away and you begin to see horrific images on television. Where does one find hope?
One man, an executive at a television station in Shikoku, told me that the afternoon of 3.11 he was shaken to his core and was convinced that Japan must surely die that day. He could not imagine how life could continue. And yet it did.
There’s the story of my new colleague from Tohoku University in Sendai. I wrote about her earlier. In her third floor office when the earthquake hit, she and an assistant hid under a table as the building shook and all her books came flying off the wall. When she eventually made it back to her home, it was without power and everything was a mess. She ended up sleeping side-by-side with neighbors she did not know from her same apartment building. After two days, they returned to their building. One man, on the ground floor, said “I have a kerosene stove, bring all the food you have here and we can prepare together.” And so they did, eating two hot meals a day together as they began to restore their apartments. And they began to make community.
I think of the sake shop owner whose building we cleaned out during a trip to Ishinomaki City near Sendai. I don’t know if any of his family members were killed. Clearly his business was destroyed. While we rescued some inventory as we cleaned, I’m not sure that even the shell of the building can be used again. And business? Customers? Not for a long time. And when we finished cleaning up, he radiated gratitude. I am sure he goes through different cycles, but on that day he seemed so much more in touch with what he had than bitter about what he had lost.
And yet, of course, there are those who are in deep pain and grief. The fishermen who managed to stay safe at sea, only to and find their families missing and homes destroyed. Or the people who have become lost in despair and are taking their own lives, because they see no hope for the future. return
I don’t know about hope and hopelessness. Mostly I am attracted to a Buddhist orientation in which we travel to a place beyond hope and despair where in some ways hope simply becomes irrelevant. The invitation in this space is to just live one’s life, dealing with what is present, and not get caught up in endless cycles of hope and hopelessness. There’s something important about doing the work in front of us because it is the right work to do and not worrying about whether it will ultimately make a difference or not. HOWEVER, most people don’t see it that way. So what to do?
Many things are happening at once in Japan. Everyone is doing their best. Many people have different ideas about what is right. There’s some time spent trying to find someone to blame. Lots of people are still in deep shock, ripped apart from their lives. People all over Japan and all over the world want to help. The people I spend my time with here believe we must support people in Tohoku in building their own communities again. We must help create conditions that support them in coming together to have conversations that matter — conversations which can host deep grief, deal with the practical matters of how to live daily lives now, and begin to envision and build a future. In some ways it is the same everywhere. We must turn to one another and become community again.
Going back to Val’s question “is the world worthy and are human beings?” Heck, I don’t know — but this is the life we have been blessed to live and we might as well give it a go. I can’t see spending much time complaining!