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”?

9 thoughts on “Super heroes

  1. Oh my goodness, what stories. And I’m sure there are thousands, millions more to be told.

    I have never been in such a situation. I would like to think I’d rise to the task; however, I really have no idea if I have the mettle, as you say.

    Prayers to your friends, and all those who have lost loved ones and are struggling through this horrible event.

  2. Thank you for this post. I have been thinking so much about everyone in Japan and hearing these two personal stories from someone I “know” is really helpful. It’s so devastating. It’s really hard to come to terms with.

  3. I’m still thinking of you and your friends and family. These stories are beautiful testaments to the power of love and family, and the strength of your friends.

  4. I needed to read this today.

    I can’t begin to wrap my head around the realities of the devastating situation.

    I am weeping for the families.

    And yes, I too am now questioning what I would do.

  5. Cecilia, I love your reflections. Anyone who is committed to a family or loved one is a hero. And I believe we’ve all felt at some point that “little angel” that gives us power we didn’t know we could access. Those forces came together for me that day. Yes, it’s possible that you would have been in 3 different places during the quake, too, but your heart would confirm that the fact is that you were really ONE unit, no matter where you were physically. That literally drove me to make the physical happen as fast as possible. Nothing would stand in your way. You are that strength, Cecilia.

    It’s still fresh, and what we are bound together dealing with here as a nation is overwhelming. Knowing that nobody is alone in this mission to heal a country (and beyond) has its comforts. Nonetheless, I am still stepping out of myself daily. I read your K paragraph partly as if I was reading my own obit. It was past tense, and I am in a dreamy state sometimes, since this can’t be real. The complications still can’t be happening. But as you point out so eloquently, that family core. I’m grounded, loved and blessed. You know how grateful I am for humor in my life, and I hope to be able to think about what kind of “Cape” I would wear if I were a Super Hero! But for now, this 6 year old, who is hugging me more than ever this week, is the PERFECT FIT! (Thank you for your post. I think of you and your family constantly.)

  6. What happened there seems so surreal to those of us untouched by the effects of this tragedy until you read the stories you shared here. And suddenly I tremble with fear knowing that I would also be separated from my family at that time too.

    But even though I can’t possibly know what the lengths they went through to reunite and the pangs of dread and uncertainty they felt from the separation, I have no doubt that if you, Cecilia, or I were in the same situation, we would have done the same thing. I don’t think it’s heroism so much as the fact that this is just what parents do.

    And we will.

  7. 11 hours. Wow. I tell myself I would do the same thing, and I absolutely cannot imagine the panic and fear your friends must have felt. Thinking of all of you.

  8. I love your reflections. I have never personally witnessed widespread tragedy first hand, but I have always wondered how I would fare under such situations. I don’t know how this compares, as the tragedy felt was personal and on a smaller-scale, but when my dad died, I learned that I can be remarkably brave and strong, when necessary. I learned that I am capable of more than I give myself credit. I don’t think I’m exceptional, however. I think we all have more strength than we know. That strength, that heroism is revealed in situations where it is most clear what matters most to us. Thanks for sharing their stories.

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