Monday, March 14, 2011


I’m not sure what this should be called. Paradox is probably not it.

I’ve been thinking about happiness and not chasing happiness. I am excited about St. Patrick’s Day and have my leprechaun costume ready for the parade in St. Peter and the pub crawl in Mankato.

The news from Japan is absolutely horrifying. I can’t even look at the front page of the paper today. I had to turn mpr off on Sunday because the stories are so sad I cried. I tried to read some about it but almost choked it was so horrible. There aren’t words.

Jane’s son, Devin and his wife and new baby are living in Togichi, just north of Tokyo. They are fine for now, have water, power, and gas for cooking. Devin’s wife’s mother and brother are with them. Devin sent an email that sounded almost upbeat and contained a few funny stories.

I wonder if they can’t fathom yet the magnitude of what has happened. I wonder if that’s what you do in situations like this.

Jane wants them to come back to live in Iowa where it’s flat and the threat of earthquake is much smaller. Not non-existent…but smaller.

I only know I would have a hard time coping if it were my child there. I would be drawn to the news like a moth to a flame, but it would break my heart. Every beautiful face, every sad story.

Jane says she is numb. When we talked on Friday, she knew that they were safe from the shaking earth and safe from the water. Now there is the threat of radiation and nuclear plants exploding. She just sent something she wrote over the last few days and I will post it here.

Son in Japan

     As I write this on Sunday night, March 13, CNN reports the devastation in Japan,  the overwhelming, terrifying threat of a nuclear disaster, the after-shocks, the death count rising. I look away from the screen and write. The sirens wail.

My bedside telephone rang at 7:00 a.m. Friday morning. I was surprised. No one calls me at 7:00 in the morning.  I am retired. I picked up the phone and my brother, Glenn, said, “Jane, Michael just called.” This would be my nephew Michael calling from Idaho, glued to the television, checking detail on the Internet. Michael’s first words had been, “Dad, you’ve got to call Aunt Jane right away. Something terrible has happened in Japan.”

I knew that. I had sat, propped up in bed, watching CNN all night. I gripped the remote, I’m not sure why. I wasn’t going to change channels. The horror unfolding before me was not real. It couldn’t be real. Devin and Hiroe and our new baby Grace were at the end of the beam that connected me, the beam I controlled somehow by gripping the remote. Like a robot, every half-hour or so I picked up the telephone and punched the number, programmed in for me by Devin’s baby brother, that has always taken me into the comforting realm of Devin’s existence. No such comfort was forthcoming. “All systems to this country are busy.” Every half hour I hit the number again.

I made coffee.  I took my granddaughter to school. I came home. I sat in the car in the driveway. I sat. Finally, I pulled myself out of the car and came into the house.
The phone was ringing when I came through the door. Finding the cordless where I had just dropped it was agony. I hit the “talk” button and then I heard his voice. “Mom, it’s Devin. We’re fine.”

What followed was not a conversation. Devin talked. He said that he was in his classroom in Utsunomya when the earthquake hit. Everything flew off his desk. Books flew off the shelves. Children were terrified. This, in an area of Japan north of Tokyo, not on a coast, considered to be one of the safest areas of Japan. Devin could not made contact with his wife, Hiroe, some twenty miles away, and he raced toward home. All power was out. He told me that he fought back panic as he met, at every railroad crossing, crossing arms locked down. He, and untold others, turned around, sought other routes, trying to get home. There were no traffic lights. All drove courteously, trying to get home, trying to locate loved ones. Devin made it home, found Hiroe and baby Grace safe.

When Devin called about 9:00 Friday morning, it was midnight there. There was no power in their city of Oyama, roughly the size of Iowa City. No power. No water. No heat. The stores in the area had somehow stayed open so that people could get emergency supplies. Devin said they had enough food and many bottles of water. Enough. For now. I asked the important question. Did they have any beer? Devin spoke to his brother-in-law Yoshi across the room and I heard them laugh. Devin told me they each had a bottle of beer in hand. Thank you for asking.

As we spoke, Devin suddenly shouted, “Hold on, Mom. Just hold on!” I heard my daughter-in-law cry out and then I heard the voice of my baby granddaughter cry out an echoing whimper. This would not have been the way I would have chosen to first hear her voice. But I was thankful beyond words. The cries were in reaction to an aftershock. This happened twice during our conversation. The terror they felt insinuated itself across the Pacific Ocean and landed, cold and real, in my lap.

My throat began to tighten as we neared the end of our call.  Then, finally Devin said, “I love you, Mom. I’ll try to call tomorrow. Don’t be afraid if I don’t. It will just mean I can’t get through.” Silence. “We’re fine, Mom.”

I sat holding the phone for a very long time, staring out at nothing, staring out a window in a little town in the Midwest at a spot in Japan where a village used to be. I sat with the phone in my hand, having just heard those words that thousands are longing to hear. “We’re fine.”

I continued to stare at nothing and then there it was…the image of a little red-haired boy, his face pressed against the cold glass window of a long-ago December day, craning to watch his big brother Devin back out of the drive and move on up the street on his way to meet up with old friends, also home from college for the holidays. Devin would be back later. But how did Nick know that for sure? He finally turned his face from the window, his expression sad, his eyes imploring me, and said in a tight little voice, “You should notta let ‘im go.” Indeed. Out of the mouths of babes.

Jane Kelso
Mt. Vernon, Iowa

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