March 11th, 2011. While at a stoplight, my iPhone silently buzzed in the passenger seat of my Suzuki Alto, halfway between Kudamatsu and Hikari, along a winding shoreline road in the Southwest of Japan. The roads of this area were very well maintained and barely crowded, especially in the afternoon. I picked up my phone and saw an e-mail from a friend in America. “Are you dead?” it read. Being one of my most flippant guy-friends, I replied with an audible “Bitch please!”, tossed the phone back in the seat, and continued driving to my evening business English class.
At the same time, a friend I had not yet met clamored up a flight of stairs where he and his wife would spend the next few days waiting alongside a stranger washed in through the window, just hoping to be found.
The drive always had a hint of frustration. Riding away from the sun, the loneliness of being a foreigner in the countryside relentlessly found a way to pull my mind into a thousand directions. I usually faded from language memorization games in a shallow dredge of hope at finding an interesting topic to engage a small group of salarymen in order to practice simple past sentence structures.
Another friend not yet acquainted would soon find himself calling an elementary school gym home, keeping his cardboard divider clean. He sat and practiced a smile on his new neighbors that he had perfected just a few years prior following his grand-daughter’s disgusted proclamation, “Grampa doesn’t smile! He’s scary”
I arrived in Hikari, signed in at the company entry-gate and walked towards the conference room where class was held every week. An announcement came across the company campus announcing that all non-necessary personnel were allowed to return home early this evening. The announcement repeated every few minutes.
Short moments had passed, and one of my youngest new friends I hadn’t yet met cried without rest in the arms of a stranger, a women weeping silently over a daughter who wouldn’t return from school that day, or ever again.
I wasn’t prepared when I sat down at the whiteboard. There were no whiteboard markers. With no students, I took out my phone and opened a link my American friend had sent. Ustream, an amateur network of live streaming video, became a base for me to witness a world fall apart. It took time for me to comprehend the events at my fingertips.
A vast array of friends from every part of Japan, and allover the world were also living different lives in different places. Their decision to help rebuild not yet present as they too sat and watched the events unfold.
Many Japanese people have asked me, “Why do you volunteer? This isn’t even your country?” I volunteered because we’re all in this together. And well… volunteering is giving your time. My friends have given me such much, and I want to give them the world. Right now, I have time. So that’s what I give.