The Spirit and the Tragedy of 3-11: A Personal Remembrance

Today, even stronger than usual, my heart and my spirit are with Japan.

Three years ago, I awoke as usual in my apartment in Washington DC around 6:30am. As the coffee was brewing on a “normal morning” and I was ready to eat breakfast, I opened my laptop to the CNN homepage. My normality abrupt changed. There had been a massive earthquake in the Tohoku region of Japan measuring 9.0. Details were still sketchy, but there were early reports of a massive tsunami. I immediately reached out to my girlfriend, Ria, in New York to alert her as her family all were living in the Tokyo area. Then, I sent messages to my friends in Japan to see if they were safe.

With an anxious and heavy heart, I went to work on that Friday morning. As always, work was busy, but none of us could concentrate, most of all, me. I have spent a lot of time in Japan, and my soul feels as if it has been there in other lifetimes.

We spent much of the morning hovering around my desk, watching in horror as the videos started coming in of the tsunami washing ashore. Work became an afterthought. It took me back to September 11, 2001 in my country. As with that day, the news kept getting worse. And as with that day, my thoughts were not with anything normally felt in my life. I was riveted to the indelible images, and my thoughts poured out to the people so devastated by what was happening.

In the days and weeks that followed, I was overcome by the sometimes incongruous emotions of grief and admiration. I grieved for the souls who were lost, and my heart felt deeply for the survivors who lost so much. I attended benefits in Washington DC and New York City. I contributed money. I never felt I did enough.

But amidst the grief and concern, I also felt incredible admiration for the spirit of the Japanese people. In the face of terrible devastation and loss, the survivors banded together, and they helped each other. They patiently awaited assistance. No, this is not completely unique to any country. It’s happened around the world, and it’s happened here in America. However, I was profoundly struck by the lack of angst, by how the Japanese people reacted with incredible patience and kindness. Their spirit shined brighter than any sun, brighter than any light in the aftermath of that horrible day.

I am still overcome with admiration, and I always will be.

The people of Tohoku still need help. Many remain in temporary shelters, and many others cannot even go “home” because it is near the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster zone. There are many worthy ways to help, many organizations to contribute too. They are too many to name here, but Ria and I are contributing here in the U.S. through Japan Society in New York City. You can learn more here.

On this third anniversary of the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, we send our hearts, our feelings and our spirit out to all of the souls lost, all of the survivors and to the spirit of the Japanese people.

Pete BarkeyComment