Monday, March 12, 2012

Lest We Forget

On Saturday, my sister told me about a recent home video released of the Challenger explosion.  Apparently, no one knew that anything was wrong until the announcement came over the PA system saying that the Challenger was gone.  We could only imagine what that must have felt like - and the shock and denial as well as the overwhelming sadness that such an event happened.

My sister went on to tell me that she read the comments underneath the video and people expressed how clearly they remember where they were and what they were doing at that moment.  It's true.  Those moments do not leave our memory or our hearts easily.  People remember what they were doing when Kennedy was assassinated, when the Challenger exploded, when 9/11 hit.

I wasn't alive for the Kennedy event, I was only 4 when the Challenger exploded (although I do clearly remember the day in second grade when my teacher told me about it).  I do remember though exactly where I was for 9/11.  I was in the library at my custodial job when a coworker came up and told me that someone was attacking the nation's capitol.  He was a bit of a joker so I brushed him off.  "Stop making up that stuff.  That's not funny."  He argued his case again but I waved him aside again.  Then, something made me stop. I overheard two professors run into each other and exclaim, "Can you believe it?"  Their ensuing questions were spoken partly in fear and shock but also a genuine concern for the welfare of our countrymen several thousand miles away.  I wanted to march up to them and demand answers.  I tried to find my coworker again and ask for more details.  The more I looked, the more I saw more people talking in subdued and shocked tones.  The rumors I overheard grew until it sounded like the entire east coast was under attack.  With family in North Carolina, I fairly sprinted home to watch the news and burst in to wake up my roommate.  We watched in shock at the footage and then watched the second plane hit the second tower.  Words cannot describe how I felt.

A year ago, Japan was hit by a tsunami.  It was another one of those moments.  As soon as I heard about the tsunami, I was shocked and saddened.  Over the previous year, I had been falling more and more in love with the people of Japan.  In shock, I walked through the halls of my lab, only to run into a recently arrived visiting professor from Sendai, Japan.  Without thinking, I blurted out, "You're from Sendai?  Your family...how is your family? Are they ok?"  Uncertainty in his face and voice, he responded, "I do not know.  I have not heard from them."  The tsunami felt so much closer than it did before.  I prayed that this man's family would be safe.

With all of these thoughts, it reminds me of one of my favorite sculptures in the Art Institute of Chicago was completed in marble and is entitled The Solitude of the Soul by Lorado Taft.
Source: Art Institute of Chicago
The sculpture has four sides, in which each side portrays an individual who is sculpted with great detail while leaving the background largely unfinished rock.  Each individual portrayed is suffering and struggling in some way, seemingly cut off from others in its agony, except for one point of contact with another individual on another side.  This is usually through a hand or a shoulder and an arm.  I find this sculpture very poignant.  We all suffer and struggle in very individual and solitary ways but reaching out and through simply the touch of another, we can somehow make it through.

When I think about the disasters and tragedies of the world and the suffering that those events bring upon individuals in the world, I realize that I cannot truly comprehend their sorrow.  However, I can lend a hand, a  shoulder just to let them know that in their suffering, they are not truly alone.  I think that remembering those events clearly and the feelings that accompany those events can be a way of reaching out.  Those events remind us we are all human, all subject to trial and sorrow.  But those events can also remind us that there is much we can do to help and lift one another.

(This is also the main message of Hasebe-san's blog post regarding the tsunami disaster.  Even google translated, I find great truth in his words, asking people to reach out to each other, knowing that our situations and our experiences and feelings are all different but that in reaching out, we can grow together.)

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