• February 27, 2017

Japan after the storm: Learning to love life

Since the Heart’s Home opened in Sendai, Japan, the mis­sion­aries there have been espe­cially reaching out to the vic­tims of the 2011 tsunami, vis­iting them in their “kasetsu” (tem­po­rary housing). Six years later, these people have been able to move into real homes, but uncer­tainty has been replaced by lone­li­ness and iso­la­tion. Sylvie shares one of her encoun­ters:

This morning we went to visit Mrs. Henmi, an eighty-four year old woman that we met in one of the kasetsu (tem­po­rary housing built for the vic­tims of the 2011 tsunami). It has been a year since she has moved into her very own apart­ment.

We visit her often, but as she always for­gets my name, every time we call to tell her we’d like to visit, it’s like meeting for the first time. Yet when we arrive to the parking lot of her building, she is already there waiting for us, bent over and sup­ported by her cane. As soon as she sees us, all the mem­o­ries come back!

We talk for hours about the “good old days” in the kasetsu – looking through her photo album and asking what has become of all our other friends from there. Like many, it was dif­fi­cult for her to leave behind the others who were in her kasetsu. Even though she has every­thing she needs in her new apart­ment, she is alone: “When we were there, everyone took care of everyone else, and no one every felt alone. Here it is so imper­sonal.” Her only com­pany is her tele­vi­sion, but Mrs. Henmi is one of the lucky ones because she has someone who comes three times a week to help her cook and her son doesn’t live far.

The time passes quickly and it’s already four o’ clock. Mrs Henmi sud­denly inter­rupts the con­ver­sa­tion to look out her window: “The crows will soon be flying away to go back to their homes, I see them every day at the same time.” And five min­utes later, we see four crows take flight. She says: “Since it’s not always very inter­esting watching the tele­vi­sion, I can spend hours looking out my window at the passing cars…”

Last year, the last time we met in the kasetsu, Mrs Henmi told me just how much I was like a member of her family. She is my Japanese grand­mother! She is a woman full of love and respect, who only ever says good things about other people. After all that she has suf­fered, she teaches me so much about how to accept the unac­cept­able, to love that which is given to us in life. On the way home, I realize that these hours spent with her have not been “a waste of time”, but on the con­trary, have helped me to become more human, more loving, and closer to God.

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