POSTED ON MARCH 30, 2011:
A Life More Ordinary
Japan's tragedy highlights the harmony of the humdrum
March 11 has a new significance for Japan. As Americans, this is something with which we can easily empathize. Global media has been saturated with thousands of stories concerning the earthquakes, tsunami and subsequent aftermath. While many are sad, others have witnessed an incredible sense of courage, honor and discipline among the Japanese people.
Some of the most inspiring stories that have been traveling mass media pipelines describe dramatic rescues, reunited loved ones and people who managed to survive despite significant odds.
The yen has maintained its strength. And the best news, perhaps, is that Toyota announced its plans to resume production of the Prius in Tokyo in the next few weeks.
There are other stories from Japan, however, that have not garnered as much media attention. They don't have star quality. They aren't filled with gut-wrenching images or death-defying miracles. They have nothing to do with the global economy, nuclear reactors or automobile manufacturing. They are just regular, ordinary stories that would not stand out to anyone except those who were involved if it had not been for the events of 3/11 and following. I have chosen two that were particularly inspiring.
Primary school holds graduation days after tsunami
At the beginning of the academic year, the Atago Elementary School in Miyako had planned its graduation for March 18. They had no idea that many who were expected to attend and participate would be dead or missing.
The school's gym, which normally holds graduation ceremonies, was filled with rescue operations. In a small classroom, with a sparse, yet emotional crowd, 13 boys and girls graduated.
According to one of the children named Masato Onodera, "The clothes I wanted to wear today have been washed away by the tsunami, but I'm glad I could attend the ceremony. I hope we can cheer up the city of Miyako." --(Mainichi Daily News, Japan, March 19th, 2011)
Baby born to doctor in tsunami-ravaged hospital
Dr. Takeshi Kano was separated from his pregnant wife for three days after the tsunami. The hospital in which he works was heavily damaged in the aftermath and the majority of its patients and staff went missing. Kano chose to stay in the hospital treating its current patients and incoming victims rather than being with his own family.
Fortunately, the doctor was able to rejoin his wife just in time to see his new son born. The parents named their new son Ray, which is a transliteration of a Japanese name, which means "hope." According to Kano, "The baby has given us hope. No matter what happens, people must keep walking ahead and looking forward." -(ITN, London, March 16, 2011)
These two stories might not make the local paper under normal circumstances. Birth announcements and primary school graduations are not glamorous. When normal circumstances are in upheaval, however, mundane stories can bolster endurance.
The story of a community that will never forget this graduation ceremony and one about a baby born to an unselfish physician who has experienced the miracle of life to an exponential degree.
These stories are a reminder that life after tragedy is often about the ordinary. As people begin to pick up the pieces and questions finally begin to have answers, the plain old stuff of life has a renewed sweetness. This is important to remember, I think, when people feel the need to make large, sweeping statements about the state of the universe.
As expected, there has been no shortage of commentary from the religious community on the current Japanese situation. Most have offered prayers and support and encouraged adherents to give financially. A quick survey of various religious statements shows a surprising amount of cooperation among Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and dozens of other non-Shinto faith communities on behalf of the Japanese.
Considering the fact that the vast majority of Japanese people are not adherents of any of officially recognized faith system, including traditional Shinto, such unified endorsement brings a bit of hope in terms of worldwide kinship.
There are some, of course, who use the wake of tragedy and disaster to make pronouncements about God's judgment. Such accusatory assessments have been recorded since the written word began.
In a discussion about world events, Jesus commented on two major news topics in ancient Israel. The first was the murder of a number of Jews for the purpose of a Roman religious sacrifice. The second was that some 18 people had died when a tower in the southern part of Jerusalem, which was known as Siloam, had fallen on top of them. Jesus asked those who had gathered, "Do you think (those who died) were more guilty than all of the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (Luke 13:1-5, NIV)
Jesus' point was that transgressions had nothing to do with such tragedies. His point was that all of us, no matter our circumstances, need to have a heightened awareness that the way we live matters. It doesn't take a natural disaster to wreak havoc. Each of us is capable of destroying others on a daily basis. The ordinary matters. The way we live today matters. When we are entrenched in scenarios of chaos and disaster, we long for the mundane with all of its sweetness.
If you are longing for something beyond that with which you have been blessed, hit the pause button. As the Japanese proverb says, "The reverse side also has a reverse side."
Take a look at your regular, ordinary life and celebrate as if there are no guarantees. Getting what you want might ruin what you have. Enjoy life as it comes to you.
-(Eric Costanzo is Minister of Community Ministries and Teaching Pastor at First Baptist Church in downtown Tulsa.)
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