Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan: I See You

by Zinta Aistars

"A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed." ~Henrik Ibsen

Every evening I watch the news, and every evening, I end up in tears. I can hardly bear to watch these images of destruction and devastation in Japan, yet feel compelled to do so, if only to bear witness, to not turn away from the suffering of others.

What good do my tears do? Do they matter to the elderly Japanese man who struggles to maintain his composure as he holds up a photo of his two lost grandsons to the television camera? Do they matter to the Japanese woman, infant held tight in her arms, who has lost her husband, her home to the roiling ocean? Do they matter to the now homeless Japanese widow who has lost her life as she knows it, family, friends, gone into the open chasm of a belching earth? Do they matter to the wide-eyed child, suddenly orphaned?

Someone thousands of miles away, someone they will never know, weeps for them all. My tears give them nothing. Restore nothing. Bring no one back from a watery grave.

Yet I recall many years ago (not many enough) working on an article for a magazine about the rape-death camps in Kosovo. I wrote about thousands of women held by force in camps to be impregnated by the enemy to produce children for them, reproduce until they died, even as genocide raged around them. The more I researched, the sicker I felt inside. How did I not know this was going on? How did I not see? Not until I was given a story assignment by an editor …

Every evening as I prepared dinner, the television chattered daily news, background noise, images flashing across the screen that were a blur of light and color in my peripheral vision. It was all there. Human faces with eyes gone empty. The ravages of a hundred wars. Children sliced into pieces by machetes in Rwanda by their own neighbors. Starving mothers in Ethiopia holding babies with bellies swollen by hunger, too defeated to brush away the flies from their faces. A never ending parade of misery and injustice.

One country after another. One terrorist act after another. Bombs, disease, murders, torture, a world crazed with suffering … as I stirred my broth and tasted it. A pinch more garlic salt?

As I worked on that article, the lesson sunk in. It sunk in deep. This could have been me. This could have been my son, my daughter, my sister, my mother, my father, my friend. My son’s limbs amputated and bleeding living blood. My daughter’s body ravaged by thirty men in one day. My father sitting stooped on a cot in a shelter, homeless at 83. While the world stirred its soup and added a pinch of garlic salt.

I knew a moment of defeat. More than one moment that I wanted to run screaming to the woods, enfold myself in silence, heave my television and my radio and all the newspapers and magazines on a trash heap and declare myself deaf, mute, blind. See no evil, hear no evil, live in a cocoon.


If nothing else, I could bear witness.

From my warm and currently secure home, I could hear these stories, see these images, cry with my fellow woman and man and child across the globe. And there were, after all, a thousand things I could do along with that bearing of witness. Donate some dollars, volunteer for some effort, or even just to write my own articles and spread the word so that others might bear witness, too.

I see you.

I acknowledge you. That you, too, are a living person with love in your heart and hope for a future and a dream to pursue. I am like you, and you are like me, even as we are each and every one of us unique, precious, irreplaceable.

I can put down my wooden spoon, turn the heat down on the stove for a moment, let the stew simmer, and sit down to watch, hear, allow those images from such a great distance to enter my living room and enter my heart.

I can cry.

I can vow to keep my heart soft, and in its softness to find its source of strength. Because before any of us take action, we must hear the stories so that we may feel for our fellow human being. In these stories, we gain understanding, and in understanding, we begin to feel compassion, and from our compassion is birthed an action. Wiping our eyes dry again, we move to make this, each in our own small way, a better world.

American Red Cross – Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief

Habitat for Humanity – Disaster Response for Japan

Doctors Without Borders Disaster Relief

UNICEF for Japanese children

How to help pets in Japan

and many others. Please be sure to verify the charity before giving.


  1. Zinta ... Yes.

    Thank you from one ordinary person in Canada who, even in my relatively stable and safe little corner of the globe, feels the shock ... and sees.

    Dear ones who suffer ... We see you.

  2. Thank you, Jaliya. To live our lives with eyes wide open, hearts wide open, and our life sense to remain sensitized ... will mean the difference in how our global story ends, and when.

  3. Thank you Zinta. We can see. We can cry. We can pray. Jim