September 11, 2011

Helping Hands

As many of us pause today to remember the September 11th attacks in America, it also marks 6 months from the March 11th earthquake that devastated much of Northern Japan.  I remember having been in the Army 3 months and being in shock as the towers collapsed and as the Pentagon smoldered. I also remember holding on to my family thinking the world was ending on March 11th.  As part of the efforts to help Japan recover, the LDS church has chartered buses that go to Sendai and sights in Northern Japan several times per week to help with the clean-up process.  The scale of this volunteer effort is truly amazing, but it is just a small part of the overall restoration process that has been ongoing for the last 6 months.  Friday, 141 members of our District left to go up to Iwate to a town called takata which used to have 25,000 people.  2,000 people died in the tsunami and the majority of the town was destroyed.  We spent the day clearing debris from some of the rice fields by a school so that it can be planted again sometime.  A lot of progress has been made, but as these pictures show, it will be years before a semblance of this town begins to appear again.  It gives me pause to think that this is what it looks like after 6 months of continuous effort.  For those who have lived in Japan, you'll appreciate that as we worked in the field a van drove by several times throughout the day blaring over the loudspeaker thank you messages.  While we were there, there was an earthquake and we were told that if the siren sounded we should head to the hills behind us.  I have been through hundreds of earthquakes, but when you're clearing debris from a tsunami, it makes you think a little more about where your standing.  I've been to Hiroshima and seen the devastation that the atomic bomb left and it was similar to the destruction left by the tsunami.  Entire areas were just void of buildings, void of roads, and void of life.  6 months later, the land looks completely decimated.   Yet, from such destruction, like at Hiroshima, the Japanese people come together and rebuild. Their efforts are tireless, their resolve is unmatched.  It is amazing to see the sense of community that exists in Japan.  In the face of such destruction, their resolve is inspiring.

Of note, the rikusentakata tree has become a national icon as it was the only pine tree in the low lands to survive the tsunami.  If you notice in the pictures the hills surrounding this area are covered in pine trees just like the lowland parts used to be covered in pine trees.  There is only one left. It stands as a simple of resilience in the face of destruction.  It truly embodies the spirit of the Japanese people.