As an American who lived in Japan, today is a somber day. It is the 10 year anniversary of 9-11 and 6 months since the Tohoku earthquake. I’ve seen comparisons of the two events, but they are nothing alike, except for the fact that both are great tragedies. That fact alone reminds us that we are all human—that regardless of the situation, our beliefs, and history, we are stronger when we stand together. Both events brought great sadness, but they also brought lessons for each of us to learn and proof of heroism and hope in a world full of darkness.
On September 11, 2001, I went into my AP World History with no idea what had happened in New York. A couple of my classmates said something about a plane crashing into the Twin Towers. I didn’t know how grave the situation was until the entire school was called into the gym to hear about what had happened. At the time, my world consisted of school, home, a few internet buddies with whom I would chat about motocross, and relatives in Taiwan whom I would occasionally hear about. I didn’t even know what the Twin Towers were until I saw pictures.
It slowly started to sink in when I came home and watched TV. As scary as the images were though, I still couldn’t really understand what was going on until the next couple of days, when I kept seeing tributes to the lives that were lost. One night, I began crying because I finally realized that my little problems were nothing to the people who had lost a husband, a wife, a child, a parent, a friend. I hadn’t experienced death, but I knew that I would be heartbroken if someone I knew was gone, especially because of a terrible act of violence and hatred.
9-11 brought me out of my safe little world. I began to realize that even though I didn’t know anybody in New York or D.C., my life would change. My school sold T-shirts to raise money for the Red Cross. It was the first time I bought anything for charity. That wasn’t much else I could think of doing besides remembering that I am an American and appreciating the efforts of the firefighters, police, paramedics, and military.
As the years went by, I slowly forgot about how 9-11 changed everything. Heightened airport security became a norm and then a nuisance. Everyone had grown accustomed to the altered New York skyline. I used to wear the tribute shirt I bought at school every year, but I became too wrapped up in my little world again to remember. The one exception was when I visited New York right before I left fore Japan. We passed by Ground Zero, which was on the mend, and I was reminded that people were still healing from the terrible tragedy, that we as a country (regardless of our feelings on the war) were still needed closure.
Flashforward to six months ago, March 11, 2011. It was past midnight, and I was on the computer, browsing around facebook and other sites. First came the status updates from all my friends still in Miyagi about a huge earthquake. Then Yahoo! had a news alert of an 8.4 magnitude quake. Since I was used to the Japanese scale, I went to the Japanese Meterological Agency site to get an idea of how big it was. It was beyond huge. Despite having work the next day, I stayed up past 3 A.M., as reports of tsunamis off the coast of Miyagi appeared and the death toll began rising exponentially.
Although I had experienced death before then and moments where I worried about another’s safety, I had never felt so overwhelmed before. Miyagi was my second home, and it pained me to realize that some of the places I visited were damaged or completely wiped out. I thought about how many people I had met during my time as JET there had lost a loved one or their homes. I will never know.
Checking my friends off a list I created of people who were safe became an obsession for the next week. It took over two weeks before the safety of all but one of my friends and acquaintances I had on-line contact with was confirmed. The last one, Taylor Anderson, didn’t make it.
If I had struggled with emotionally connecting to 9-11, my struggle with the Tohoku earthquake was finding others to connect with. My friends in Miyagi didn’t have internet access. Fortunately a couple friends here and my family understood since they had been to Japan. Thank goodness for cultural exchange programs.
It’s only been half a year, and my friends’ lives have returned to normal. The only difference is that some have moved and many have put their energy towards charity efforts. I’ve been trying my best to do what I can, even when money is tight and I can’t physically be in Japan to lend a hand. This tragedy has taught me to appreciate the bonds I have formed and to not let them die. It has also given me more pride in the time I spent in Miyagi and the strength of its people.
Despite all the sadness, I am comforted to know that heroes do exist in real life. The individuals on United 93, Taylor, and all those who stayed behind to make sure everyone else got to safety gave up their lives because they cared. Their memory lives on because others care too. We’re all connected, whether we’re an American family continuing the legacy of their daughter in Japan, a Japanese man who used his grief to change lives in Afghanistan, or ex-JET blogger in America trying to spread a message of hope and peace. No matter where you’re from or what your views are, the fact that you care about people you don’t even know makes a difference. Let us remember, let us heal, let us forgive, and let us make the world a better place.
Listening to: “Shadow on the Cloud” by echostream