Wakarimasen

It’s taken me a while to process my thoughts and feelings and I’m not done, yet.  But I found myself writing this when I was supposed to be doing a review.  I don’t know if this is right . . . but what would be?

Around fifty years ago, when young men did this kind of thing, my father enlisted in the Army for two years.   To make a long story* short, they sent him to Japan.   He didn’t want to re-up, so Uncle Sam cut him loose and he taught at the American School in Tokyo for a year or two.

Dad brought home beautiful things that my sister and I will fight over someday—a book of haiku (mine!), a doll in a glass case (hers!), two statues of Sumo, a sake set, and more—and some marvelous stories about the Japan he knew and the people he met.

He taught us the social customs and practicalities useful to foreigners:  how to use chopsticks, how not to use chopsticks, how to bow, how to hold a teacup, how to politely deal with a sneeze, that sake is better warm and a sane person does not trifle with umeshu.  He also taught us how to say hello at any time of day, and a few other essential words and phrases.**

One of these was wakarimasen:  I don’t understand. 

I haven’t spoken with Dad since the earthquake triggered so much devastation, but I expect his initial reaction was a moment of closed-eyed silence punctuated by a pithy phrase or two in good old Anglo-Saxon.

But I keep repeating that single word.  I’m not even sure if I’m using it correctly, but it’s all I have.

Wakarimasen 

Ten thousand dead.  On initial estimate, before the tsunami, before the reactor.

Not by an act of war.  Not by human evil. 

By the very earth on which they stood.

Wakarimasen. 

How do we fight that?  Hold it back?  How do we stop it from happening?

How do we accept that there’s nothing to do but care for the survivors, rebuild, and prepare for the next time?  That these efforts, however poor they seem, do help, far more than doing nothing?

I don’t know.

Wakarimasen. 

___

*And you’d better believe I’ll be writing it someday.

**But not how to spell them, so forgive me if my phonetic attempt is wrong.