Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

A Non-Gentle Reminder

As has happened a lot in the last two years, I woke up and headed straight for the computer, and Facebook. Most of the time, the breaking news is: “this many insomniacs achieved their highest score yet in “Angry Birds Attack Farmville with Jewels.”

As has happened quite a bit in the last two years, Facebook provided my first clue about Current Events. Y’know, the stuff I used to hear about via the bedside radio, or the TV picture machine, or the newspaper.  Sox win on the west coast … politician resigns … two-hour delay, no morning kindergarten …

And this morning at 5 AM, it was only a couple of posts, and they were a bit vague: “I’m OK here in Japan”, and “what a mess”; that sort of thing.

The local downstairs TV yielded a bit more of what was known about yesterday’s earthquake in Japan. (Today’s? They’re fourteen hours ahead of Eastern time; that much I learned a long time ago, but that international date line still makes me feel like I’ve got my tenses wrong.) And a tsunami, to boot. But there weren’t yet very many video clips. The “news crawl” beneath the TV news pictures said, tersely, “four million without power in Tokyo”, and I got a sense about perhaps why communication was a bit sketchy.

Tonight, though – a series of video clips that revealed fully unto me what nature hath wrought, half a world away from here. Staggering images, some of them: pedestrians just barely (I mean skin-of-the-teeth-grade “barely”) avoiding getting hit by falling chunks of building. An entire office building, at least 20 stories’ worth, literally wobbling back and forth. The tsunami moving with apparent slowness across farmland and residential areas, seeming slow only because the camera shot was zoomed out so far. This morning, the height of the wave was estimated at 13 feet; tonight, a news announcer suggested more like thirty feet of water, mud and debris. Houses being swept away, an airport entirely water-bound, whole parking lots of cars being moved around like, well, like Matchbox Cars on a playroom floor.

It looked like a disaster movie, but disaster movies are orchestrated by Industrial Light & Magic or whomever, and there’s a plan for those disaster scenes. Real disasters, of course, lack proper editing. For some reason, this morning and particularly this evening, the scenes of disaster didn’t look as cinematic; just a real lot more horrifying than anything that Spielberg or Bay or DeMille could conjure.


The pictures also caused me to run to the local eMail machine and dash off a note – “are you there??” to a friend of mine from a long time ago.


When I was a sophomore in high school (yeah, go ahead: “a long time ago”), our music department was graced by a Japanese exchange student named Ryoko Yokota. She was one of those people: disgustingly talented and correspondingly humble about it. She played clarinet in our band and orchestra; she played piano in our jazz band; she sang soprano in our chorus, concert choir and madrigals, and could have gone All-State in any of those three roles. It was really fun to watch her try and comprehend the game of American football, not to mention marching band. She kept apologizing for her English, and we kept telling her she didn’t want to hear our Japanese!

She was with us from September to March of that year, and then she went back to Japan to begin her school year there (no vacation for Ryoko!). Lots of us traded letters with her thereafter (y’know, paper with writing on it, tucked into envelopes, stamped and mailed); we asked how things were, and she responded that she was fine, but she was so busy with her studies that she didn’t have any time to pursue music anymore – and we all groaned collectively. “Oi! what a waste!” She was brilliant.

Ryoko came to visit the US again with her husband about fifteen years ago, and we managed to arrange a get-together. Again, as she translated for her husband, she apologized for her English, and we wondered what was Japanese for “you must be kidding”. And that time, we made sure to exchange eMail addresses, and lo and behold! With newer technology, a new and great way to keep in touch even though we were half a planet distant.

So, this morning, I had occasion to reflect that I had not exactly kept up my end of that communication bargain. We’ve occasionally traded messages and kept somewhat current on where I was teaching over here, what sorts of pharmaceutical research she was doing over there. She sent pictures of her little dogs (which would completely win the Westminster dog show if they were ever entered). She sent definite advice about what role I should play in the planning of my wedding (I was commanded to participate! and not leave all the work to my fiancee! And you think perhaps she was the stereotypical shy and retiring Japanese woman? Ha!).


But this morning I had the experience of sending an eMail to a person I hoped was still alive; … but I didn’t know.


Late this afternoon, I got a reply. She and her husband and the dogs are all fine. Very frightening to have every single thing around you shake and shake and shake and not stop shaking for a very long time (even though the epicenter was 240 miles away!); her husband had to walk a long way to get to a train that would get him home, but he got there, and home… and then this, from her reply eMail:

I was in my office and soon realized that it could not be as usual earthquake. I opened the door and saw an utility pole had been shaking left and right and backward and forward with approximately 45 degrees each side. It was really like a Hollywood disaster movie. Therefore, I thought that we might be dead in a minute, seriously! Guess what, March 11th is my birthday! So I thought that ‘Oh! I might die on my birthday!’”

I’m only disappointed that it took an 8.9 on the Richter scale to get me off my sorry backside and write a note to somebody.

The moral of the story, obviously… or at least a bit of fresh inspiration… (momentarily setting aside billions of dollars in damage and a nuclear reactor that could melt down shortly and 500 dead so far with 600 more missing and that can not be the end of that) … … don’t wait to keep in touch with people and let them know how you feel. You never know.


I’ll talk to you soon.


March 11, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Funny….I thought we already learned that lesson….

    Comment by Heidi | March 12, 2011 | Reply

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