I just said goodbye to my sons at college. Dusk is turning into nighttime. Smoke from the wildfires makes the darkness a welcomed sight. As I drive south, heading to McCall, my thoughts are yanked from nostalgia to alertness. An eerie red glow is to my right. A forest fire blazes just over that mountainside. One part of my brain is gearing up for panic, but the other logically points out that I am safe.
7:00 a.m. August 6, 2015
I stand in blistering heat. By the activity you would not have guessed the hour or the place. Thousands of people are quietly streaming into Hiroshima Peace Park. There is a white tent with full folding chairs. The shady parts of the park are also full. I am standing on a curb so I can see through the seated area to the podium. To the right a flame burns as it always does but today seems more intense. I have just recently learned that this flame comes from a shrine in Miyajima. It is hundreds of years old.
The sunbeams have a harshness today. They sear my skin. I wore black to show respect. The natives of this land seem grim to me. Their somberness feels accusatory. No bowing or shy smiles today. People find their place and stand firm. There is a determination. Determination to acknowledge and remember that on this day man-made fire came and its consequences.
It had never occurred to me, but the a-bomb (does it deserve capitals?) not only killed entire families as they ate their breakfast, but also incinerated the evidence of their existence -their photographs, their belongings, their bones. Others not so lucky, were lit on fire. They begged for water from those who came to the rescue. These facts seep into my consciousness as the sunbeams burn my skin.Photos
My sons are somewhere in the shade watching the ceremony on a monitor. We each get to experience this day how we choose. The woman next to me opens her parasol to create some shade but then collapses it moments later. The happy floral print feels too irreverent. People come and stand next to me but then go. I wonder why. To my surprise the space directly in front of me fills with people. I am struck by how quiet we all are. No one is chatting. My skin is burning. It is a small price to pay.
It would have been so much easier to just stay home today. Protected from the summer and the faces. Serendipitously we have heard survivor stories in the past few days. I don’t know that my sons feel fortunate. I hope someday they will realize the gift. These stories were told reluctantly. There is no happily ever after, just what happens next. The Japanese are like the family that raised me. Only happy things are spoken of. They don’t really want to talk about this day seventy years ago. They don’t want to talk about what was lost, experienced, endured. I am grateful that my Japanese friends are brave enough to tell their stories. We Housleys are strong enough to hear the truth of that day seventy years ago. We are not afraid of the complexity of truth.
“Angera-san!” To my surprise my hairdresser Kametani-san is standing in front of me. Without thinking I give him a bear hug. It is so good to see a friendly face. I immediately bow over and over to him as the crowd sweeps him away.
8:15 am-a siren sounds. The exact moment the atomic bomb ignited. A year ago I was naively walking the Ushita neighborhood. One year gone.
A group of school children begin to sing. How different they are than their American counterparts. All of them are dressed in white shirts and navy bottoms. Their black hair reflects the glare of a blazing sun. I can only imagine how hot they must feel. Families processes across the stage as their names are called. These are the remaining survivors of this neighborhood. In front of me a family walks by. Heads held high, they escort a small, bent over grandmother using a walker. This heat must come at a considerable cost to her. But they are here, they are here to remember. To show respect for the dead. Front to back, elbow to elbow, human beings fill in every space possible to memorialize the dropping of an atomic bomb on a group of human beings.
To my right I notice some foreigners. They are standing on the bench. Do they not feel the sacredness of this moment?! I cringe. I am ashamed at their callousness. Their disregard for what is required.
How I wish I understood Japanese. I look over my program. The families of survivors are called up. Before the bomb, this area was a thriving neighborhood. Full of musicians, artisans, and craftsmen, people could walk down the street and hear them practicing. As one survivor tells it, “children could walk into any home and be treated like family”. So it was like the Northend of Boise where I used to teach school. I shudder as I imagine if in one minute it is annihilated.
More adults talking. Caroline Kennedy is somewhere in the front row. Then two children looking like the age of my students-fourth graders-step forward. They begin their speech. I understand one word over and over. Family. It starts with our families. To bring peace to our world we must bring peace to our families. Yes, to bring peace to our world we need to quit shouting at each other. I recommit to living a life of peace. No yelling. Choosing listening over yelling. Choosing compassion over judgment. Choosing peace over power. Choosing the hard way, building consensus, giving everyone a voice, a piece of the pie. Flashes of past Morning Meetings and class meetings fill my memory. There were times that I felt pressure to forego these activities. In this instant I realize that these are my ways of bringing peace to the world. To give children the space to try to peacefully, not prettily, or smoothly practice solving life’s problems peacefully.
After what seems a lifetime, the ceremony is over. My skin is seared. I have never been in such a throng of people. I turn to find my sons. As I approach them a young red haired woman intercedes. “Do you speak English?” She asks as Greg and Will join me. She is a reporter from the Huffington Post and sweating profusely. In Japan you always carry a small terry cloth hankie because establishments do not provide napkins or paper towels. I give her mine. My sons smile. I see in their face, “always the mother”. “Do you know how lucky you are to be here today?” She demands. God is speaking through her. As my sons answer her questions, I breathe in this moment. Seventy years ago one community dropped a nuclear bomb on another community. We are here. We are all still here. I don’t know if we feel lucky, but I feel blessed.
*A heartfelt thanks to my son, Greg, who took all the photos.