Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I couldn't sleep last Thursday night, and it was in the wee hours of Friday morning that I caught the first report of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We have a family of friends there, and my immediate thoughts leapt to them as I watched the images of mothers scrambling to get their children to higher ground in Sendai, and the unforgettable push of water bulldozing across the airport and through neighborhoods that succumbed to the force like hollow cardboard.

The images stunned us. We were wrenched by Japan's suffering. I heard prayers uttered for her and her people in every Church meeting, at meals and at bedsides. I knew it was happening across the United States and the world.

Good people of conscience reach out to others when disaster strikes, but who could imagine such a catastrophic triple punch heaped upon a suffering people as occurred when the nuclear power facilities began to go critical. Homeless, displaced persons were now bringing blanketed babies to white-suited officials to be scanned for radiation. Those images made me want to cry.

Following the earthquake and tsunami, an American journalist questioned an on-location colleague asking, "There was widespread looting after Katrina. Is looting a problem there?" The journalist looked behind himself at the broken ruins of a shopping district where the physical disorder was otherwise a scene of empty quiet. "No, I haven't heard any reports of looting, but I wouldn't expect to. In Japan, if you drop your wallet, you're likely to have it returned with all the contents intact."

I've watched the images in the background of reports since that interview. I haven't seen looters, sign carriers, or displays of violence. Instead, I've heard reports of people who've stood in long lines waiting for ration of water, who after receiving two bottles, handed one to someone in need. I've seen civility.

I've heard it explained as the "collective mindset" of the people. The memories of some will leap to World War II and the pain of that day. My mind shifted to the chaos in Wisconsin--to angry assemblies whose vitriol erupted into threatenings and abuse over issues far less life-altering than the loss of loved ones, destroyed homes, the erasure of entire communities, or the collective shift in life being experienced by our Japanese neighbors.

We will send government aid, and Americans will do what we do well--we'll send personal donations to relief organizations, we'll continue to pray, we'll answer the call for help in whatever way we can--but in the end, I hope we take the opportunity to receive as well as give, and model the example of civility displayed by the Japanese this week.