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”?