When the tsunami inundated the town of Minamisoma, Hiromitsu Arakawa clung to the roof of his house as a merciless wall of water swept away his town, then swept away his wife, then swept him nine miles out to sea, where, completely alone, he waited for death or salvation.
None of us can truly fathom how absolutely devastating that experience must have been, indeed, must still be. Arakawa-san woke up that morning to a life as normal as ever. He probably followed his morning routine to the letter, probably made plans for later that day. Probably put something off until tomorrow. Then at 2:47pm, it was gone. All of it. Routine. Plans. People. Every scrap of his former life had been demolished. The only thing he had left was tomorrow, and as he floated on that fragile rooftop, surrounded by vast, indifferent blue, even that was a precarious hope.
Two days later, against all odds, the Japanese navy found him and took him to safety.
It is our nature to marvel as such stories and to think of them as illustrations of something divine. God must have wanted him to survive. There must be some higher purpose for which he was spared. There was a reason. In that reason, we find comfort.
But then I think of the 10,000 people who didn’t make it, and I wonder why they were expendable, why providence felt they were no longer worthy to serve a higher purpose. And I wonder if their loved ones agree with that divine decision.
Some might be arrogant enough to say that those 10,000 must have done something to deserve their horrific end. Perhaps they prayed to the wrong god or didn’t kneel in the right direction or maybe didn’t bother to pray at all, so God made an example of them, much like mafia bosses and other bullies do to those who dare offend them. Maybe that thought comforts people, too.
As for me, I think this happened because we live on a turbulent rock in the middle of a violent universe where shit rains on the good and the bad in undiscriminating measure, where tragedy isn’t a message about our worth, but is rather a test of it.
Tsunamis will rip through our lives at some point, leveling all that we know, stealing much that we love, and sweeping us to unknown fates, but that is our end only if we let go. Two days later and nine miles out to sea, there may be salvation. You won’t know, if you don’t hang on.
Hang on, Japan. Hang on.