Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Big Wave

To mark the anniversary of the tsunami in Japan, here's an appropriate book, wonderfully written by Pearl S. Buck.

Pearl S. Buck 1947

It tells the story of a tsunami that hits a small town in Japan and how it affects two boys afterwards.  Kino lives on a farm, terraced into the side of a mountain.  He loves the view he has looking down to the fishing village and "broad blue ocean" beyond. 

His friend Jiya lives along the shore but he sees the ocean in a different way:

"The sea is our enemy," Jiya replied.
"How can you say that?" Kino asked.  "Your father catches fish from the sea and sells them and that is how you live."

Jiya only shook his head.  "The sea is our enemy," he repeated.  "We all know it."

Kino's father explains how they must live with danger from both the land and the sea.

"Do you mean that the ocean and the volcano cannot hurt us if we are not afraid?"  Kino asked.

"No," his father replied, "I did not say that.  Ocean is there and volcano is there.  It is true that on any day ocean may rise into storm and volcano may burst into flame.  We must accept this fact, but without fear.  We must say, 'Someday I shall die, and does it matter whether it is by ocean or volcano, or whether I grow old and weak?'"

Kino's father tells him, "Enjoy life and do not fear death- that is the way of a good Japanese."

One day, the distant volcano erupts. 

Under the deep waters of the ocean, miles down under the cold, the earth had yielded at last to the fire.  It groaned and split open and the cold water fell into the middle of the boiling rocks.  Steam burst out and lifted the ocean high into the sky in a big wave.  It rushed toward the shore, green and solid, frothing into white at its edges.  It rose, higher and higher, lifting up hands and claws.

Jiya is saved by being sent to Kino's farm high on the mountain, but the village, Jiya's house and his family are all swept away.  Kino's parents take Jiya into their family and Pearl S. Buck gives the father's words such sweet wisdom.

"Yes, he will be happy someday," his father said, "for life is always stronger than death.  Jiya will feel when he wakes that he can never be happy again.  He will cry and cry and we must let him cry.  But he can not always cry.  After a few days he will stop crying all the time.  He will cry only part of the time.  He will sit sad and quiet.  We must allow him to be sad and we must not make him speak.  But we will do our work and live as always we do.  Then one day he will be hungry and he will eat something that our mother cooks, something special, and he will begin to feel better.  He will not cry any more in the daytime but only at night.  We must let him cry at night.  But all the time his body will be renewing itself.  His blood flowing in his veins, his growing bones, his mind beginning to think again, will make him live."

After so much destruction Kino asks, "Father, are we not very unfortunate people to live in Japan?"

"To live in the midst of danger is to know how good life is," his father replied.

"To live in the presence of death makes us brave and strong.  That is why our people never fear death.  We see it too often and we do not fear it.  To die a little later or a little sooner does not matter.  But to live bravely, to love life, to see how beautiful the trees are and the mountains, yes, and even the sea, to enjoy work because it produces food for life- in these things we Japanese are a fortunate people.  We love life because we live in danger.  We do not fear death because we understand that life and death are necessary to each other." 

Kino and Jiya grow up and indeed live their lives, even rebuilding again along the sea.  So in remembrance and honor to the Japanese victims of the 2011 tsunami:

"He cannot and he should not forget them,"  Kino's father said.  "Just as he lived with them alive, he will live with them dead.  Someday he will accept their death as part of his life.  He will weep no more.  He will carry them in his memory and his thoughts.  His flesh and blood are part of them.  So long as he is alive, they, too, will live in him.  The big wave came, but it went away.  The sun shines again, birds sing, and earth flowers.  Look out over the sea now!"

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