My second post from my trip to Japan is about tragedy, resilience and community.
She is a 67 year old widow from Ishonomaki, one of the cities that was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, last March. Suzuki-san welcomed us into her house and prepared a feast for all of us, 11 people… and we had come to encourage her!
Let me tell you about her. When I met her, she was truly one of the most energetic and joyful people I had ever met. She bounced around her house, bringing more, and more, and more food into the dining area. She talked a mile a minute, too fast for our friends to translate. She smiled… a lot! And occasionally, overjoyed as she was to see her friends from the relief team, she threw her arms up and shouted “banzai!” (“hooray”).
… Suzuki-san’s story is quite sad. She lost a daughter in the tsunami. I’ll let her surviving daughter, Miwa Suzuki, an Associated Foreign Press writer, tell you the story. Get out a Kleenex, and read her account of her mother’s heart-wrenching search for her missing daughter, here (article 1) and here (article 2).
For Suzuki-san, and countless other survivors of the Japanese tsunami, tragedy is not the final word. One of the consistently amazing things about human beings is our incredible capacity for survival, our ability to find hope in the face of the worst adversity, our resilience. Suzuki-san is a living example of that strength. Most of us think we could never emotionally survive such a disaster and such a devastating loss. And yet, most of us would, according to statistics. The majority of people actually overcome tragedy, forever changed, to be sure, yet without crippling emotional scars, without developing full-blown psychological disorders, without requiring professional therapy.
In fact, to date, the well-intentioned “grief work” and “disaster debriefing” that counselors are quick to offer following tragedies is most often not only unnecessary but actually counter productive. Our interventions are only helpful for the minority (in the case of devastating disasters, the minority can nevertheless be considerably large) of individuals who go on to develop full blown Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (as opposed to the expected stress reaction) or Complicated Bereavement (as opposed to normal grief).
As the recipient of the hospitality of this amazing woman, I was humbled. I couldn’t help but think about how trivial any problems I’ve ever known were compared to hers. I also couldn’t help but feel ashamed of the lame reasons I give myself when I just don’t feel like being hospitable. And I thought of the apostle Paul’s words about the Corinthian Christians,
and about Jesus himself,
Suzuki-san’s story is one of tragedy and resilience, but also one of community. In fact, her resilience is directly tied to community. When Suzuki-san first met my missionary friend Joel Osborne (pictured below) and his team, who had come to the area shortly after the disaster to do relief work, she was not feeling resilient. On the contrary, she was walking along the road, overcome by the grief of losing her daughter, and fantasizing about what might be the easiest and most painless way to end her life.
Joel was looking for residents who had survived the tsunami and who might become contacts for his team to help identify the needs of their neighbors as well as coordinate distributions of food and supplies. (Incidentally, involving and empowering the local community rather than fostering helplessness and passivity is a most effective relief strategy).
God brought together these two people with needs: a grief stricken, traumatized woman who needed hope, and a disciple of Jesus who was looking for a place to connect to a hurting community. As soon as he had introduced himself and explained his need, Suzuki grabbed Joel by the hand and insisted, “My house, you will use my house!”
Spending time with Joel, his team (Hiro, Gaku, Emiko & Sasha), and Suzuki-san (as well as other volunteers and other survivors of the tsunami), it is obvious how close and how deep a relationship they have built since those early days. It is also obvious how grateful Suzuki is for the hope she has found and the desire to live and thrive she has recovered as a result of the team’s love (see the note of gratitude in the picture below written by Suzuki’s daughter on her behalf and addressed to 2 members of our team of counselors who had been professors of Joel).
It is also a story of community in the sense that Suzuki-san has tapped into her resilience not only by receiving love, but also by giving love to her neighbors, by being generous, hospitable and helping the team meet the considerable needs of her neighbors.
LESSON #2 from Japan:
The old lesson is still true,
It is more blessed to give than to receive
and Paul’s words are as alive today as they were in his day,
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God… We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.