Remember to Remember Japan

I woke up Saturday morning, annoyed at my alarm, thinking "Crap it's early to be getting up - and it's Saturday?!" I was fuzzily aware of being a little warm, pinned as usual by my snuggling cats and wrapped in the arms of my always-warm husband. He said, "I'll give you a ride. Stay in bed a few more minutes. I'll put coffee on."

Then I realized I was going to volunteer at the BakeSale for Japan. I was in my clean, dry bed, surrounded by my loved ones, about to have a hot shower, a luxurious cup of coffee, and probably some pretty tasty handmade baked goods. 

I knew I could say with a fair amount of confidence that my family was well. I knew my friends and people I care for would have safe food to eat that day, a roof over their heads, and a clean bed to go home to that night.

I knew with a fair amount of certainty that I would get the medications I take daily. Being pretty healthy, their absence would not mean risking stroke, diabetic shock, heart attack or any other life-threatening situations. But I had the reassurance of them, anyway.

I knew that after my volunteer shift, I could look forward to the cosy, predictable routine of our weekly errand runs. We would go to our regular stores and find most, if not all, of the items on our grocery list. We could shop for some wine. I could mortify my husband by pestering women in saris about produce I didn't know. What is this for? How would I cook this?

We could go to find new area rugs for our bathroom - there was a sale! We could buy new rugs not because we had none, but simply because the ones we have were past their prime, slightly frayed. We could wash the old ones and donate them to the shelter where rescue kitty #2 came from.

All of our achingly mundane, satisfyingly routine, would pass. Tasks would be ticked off our list, sandwiched between a quick dim sum breakfast and a light dinner at the bar at a favorite Trattoria.

All these activities are immensely gratifying to us. Even errands. We have fun no matter what we're doing. And we are grateful that we have each other. Me every day, him most days. I hope.

All of these things would not be true if I had woken up in Sendai. One or both of us could have perished, or watched helplessly as the other slipped away in the rushing tsunami. Or we could be separated, unsure if the other's name would turn up on the names of the dead recovered. Or one of us could have disappeared, never to show up anywhere.

We might've been lucky enough to have both survived, but lost our families, our house, our beloved cats, our livelihoods.

If we needed medications, we could be in serious danger now with no hope of finding a pharmacy, a doctor.

We could be sleeping in a gymnasium with borrowed, soiled clothes and hundreds of strangers or neighbors in the same situation. Instead of handmade pasta with chicken livers, sage, and vin coto; we could be sharing a riceball. A single riceball for our daily shared ration. If we were lucky enough to still have each other, we would split it. We would both feign lack of hunger and try to give the other just a little more. 

This is the reality we must acknowledge for so many thousands of Japanese. The horror of their loss, their bleak future, the weight of their grief is almost unbearable - even from a distance halfway around the globe. It seems easier to focus on our own issues, like which bathmats to buy, how to cook a puru banana, or traffic. Or, we focus on how the "Crisis in Japan" affects us. Radiation in our milk seems easier to contemplate than the immeasurable suffering and grief of so many people in Japan, the country of my birth. 

But Japan needs us to remember. They need us to keep remembering in the months ahead. If you missed the BakeSale Saturday, you will have many chances to help. Remember to remember.

There are reasons why a relief effort fundraiser like Saturday's BakeSale for Japan matters beyond the money and awareness raised - although these are both very important. Events like this matter because they remind us of good in the world and of the generosity of strangers.

I will never forget the little girl who offered a dollar and said "This is for Japan - and I don't want anything in return!" Then she skipped away, so happy.

Don't focus on your heavy heart. Be grateful for what you have but don't forget Japan. Giving feels good. Help in whatever way, small or grand, you can. Just do something. You will be enriched for it and feel less helpful in the face of the horrific news as it continues to unfold, as surely it will.

And in the months to come. Remember to remember. Japan is counting on us.


The Japanese Disaster Relief Fund is another avenue for donations, big or small. Domo arigato gozaimasu!