Super heroes

Max and I have spent the last few days emailing and Skyping with friends in Japan. I want to share, briefly, two of the stories that have chilled and humbled me the most (though I will likely not do them justice in my recounting), because these are the stories of fellow parents, and friends with whom we have bonded over so many likenesses and shared experiences.

K. was in a meeting at work when the quake struck. She dove under the conference table watching wall hangings and bookshelves topple over around her. Crying and clutching the hand of a fellow co-worker, in her mind she really believed that this would be it, and the only thing she could think about was the fact that she was not with her 6 year-old daughter and husband. But she did make it out of the quake alive, and the next thing she did, as soon as she was allowed to go out, was to get to her daughter at school. “I NEEDED to have her in my arms,” she wrote. Wanting to fly to her daughter, she was forced instead to drive along the split open roads at snail pace.

Our other friend S. was working in Tokyo when the quake hit, and even on Japan’s rapid transit system he was a good 2 or so hours away from home. They had stopped all commuter trains that day and night though, so he walked home to get his 2 year-old daughter from her daycare. “I finally got there at 2 in the morning,” he wrote. He had walked 11 hours. (His wife was stranded in Tokyo.) 

Before this incident, they were my peers, friends with whom we have shared office space, beers, DVDs, the same sense of humor, the same rantings about marriage and parenthood. Sharing our stories and experiences was like playing handball; we threw things back and forth and we understood one another because we have each been there in the other’s shoes.

Until now. But I don’t mean that in any negative way. I have simply always imagined heroic acts of courage to be more distant, heroes to be people I read about, not email or have coffee with.

We were the same. Could we be the same, still?

If Max, Fred and I had not left Japan in 2008, we would have been in that earthquake. Despite myself, I have played out the various possible scenarios  in my head. 2:46 p.m. Fred would be about to finish up at school, and I would be, I am guessing, getting ready to pick him up. Max would be either working from home or meeting with a client in Tokyo (50 minutes away by train). Or it could be the other way around; I could be the one in Tokyo. Either way, there is a chance we would all be separated. Could I muster the physical, mental and emotional strength to suppress my own fears in order to protect my child when disaster strikes? Could I walk 11 hours, without food, without drink, for my child?

I want to believe that I can. That we are not all that different, that the heroism I have seen in my friends and in so many people in Japan and around the world is mettle that we have in all of us. Until I am tested, though, I stand in awe of all those who have survived tragedy and who are coping with struggles that we can only try to imagine.

Has tragedy ever hit close to home for you or have you overcome tragedy yourself? Do you ever think “what if”?

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Earthquake in Japan…hitting too close to home

Today is Fred’s 7th birthday, and I had a couple of ideas of possible blog posts to run. One idea was to rerun my post from last year, where Fred realized his birthday was falling on trash collection day. He had lamented at the bad luck and timing of it all, of having a birthday sullied by trash day. I thought his superstition was funny and was impressed by his connection of the two phenomena.

The irony is, well, ironic, seeing how his 7th birthday falls on an even more devastating day. I pay attention to odd coincidences and I don’t know if I am stretching things here, but the earthquake in Japan struck 9 minutes to the day that Fred was born.

News images of the earthquake in Japan fill our t.v. screen and my Facebook page is flooded by personal accounts of friends in Japan who’ve either walked up to 4 hours to get home (due to stoppage of the commuter trains) and/or who’ve hid under tables watching walls and shelves collapse around them. My 75 year-old mother-in-law was home alone when the quake hit and my 13 year-old stepson never made it home the night of the quake. 

But, everyone that we know, as far as we know, is alive and safe.

I am reminded of the helplessness I felt when 9-11 took place. I was in Japan at the time, and now, like then, I feel far and somehow out of reach of being able to really share this sense of powerlessness and heartache that I still cannot fully articulate.

My love-hate relationship with technology

I’m back from our cruise vacation 🙂

When friends ask, “So how was it?” I give two pat answers: I ate too much and it was glorious to be away from my computer. Being on a ship where internet access cost in the neighborhood of $1 per minute, I stayed away easily. What surprised me is that I realized I did not miss the technology. I loved having an excuse not to crouch in front of a computer. I loved that my cell phone read “No service.” I used to get extremely antsy if I couldn’t get my fingers on a keyboard, but this time I couldn’t get enough of feeling disconnected from society. 

Since I’ve been back I’ve been having a recurring dream: each time I was in a bedroom within an enormous and crowded space. I couldn’t identify where I was, but it felt like a combination airport-cruise ship-shopping mall. In my dreams I would be going about my personal business while crowds of people were streaming in and out. Does this signal a blurring of lines between my private self and the public?

When I think about my waking life, I realize how much of it I live sitting in my rather dark, ground-floor home office. I usually log on at a quarter to 8 in the morning, and try to get work out of the way first. If I’m done early, I would then go on to do a number of other things while never changing position let alone leaving my desk: check our finances; pay bills; arrange for household repairs and any other problems/issues; make any necessary appointments (dental, accounting, etc.); check in to my on-line writing class; shop; read the news; read blogs; check Facebook and comment on Facebook; research potential business ideas, relevant parenting/educational/health topics, recipes, vacations, retirement plans; read and respond to emails; etc. The reasons I would lift my butt off my chair are limited: to get something to eat; to shower; to use the toilet; to pick Fred up from school. When Max says, “Hey, you want to go to the post office with me?” I typically leap at the chance.

But this is also a confession I feel sheepish about making, because not only does technology mean work (which seems to carry an inherent right to gripe), it also means relationships. I now do a significant portion of my socializing on line through Facebook, blogs, and email. Does my serious discomfort of sitting in one position 9 hours a day and staring at a rectangular screen mean that I don’t want to be with my friends? Over the last few months I have been utterly slow about responding to emails or keeping up with blogs. “I’m so sorry for responding so late…” has become my new salutation. I hate it, but I don’t know how to explain to friends that my worsening communication is not personal.

Our local Border’s is having a store closing sale. That leaves our town with one last bookstore. I’m  sure I had my hand in contributing to the bankruptcy of Border’s, as time and again I would compare prices and choose to purchase my books through Amazon. And I never thought I’d say this, but I think I actually wouldn’t mind walking to a mailbox somewhere and depositing my bills there. I think there are trees along the way I could look at. And letters! Remember those days when you actually peeked out the window to see when the mailman was coming to bring a letter from a far-away friend? Credit card applications and local coupons. That’s all the postal worker brings anymore. And maybe one day s/he will be gone too.