Since a young age, I have had an odd relationship with fear. During the day, I would revel in light and ward off my irrational fears with rays of lazy sunshine. However, the night would bring with it the worries I had shoved away into the shadows. Due to my experiences with the deaths of loved ones, I would dwell on endless scenarios and possibilities of losing the small amount of people I had left. I would console myself desperately by telling myself that death would never befall my remaining family- though I knew just as well as anyone else that it was an inevitable transition, always lurking in the shadows. I still managed to convince myself of this for years- until the day of March 11th, 2011, when the largest earthquake to hit Japan in years shattered my sheltered complacency forever.
I had always loved visits to the ocean. The cerulean waters were always so sparkling, so calm and innocuous. Although I am an incompetent swimmer, I felt I could surrender myself to the tender arms of the waves and relax with the assurance that I would always be delivered safely to shore. As I watched the news, a sweeping feeling of despondence passed over me as I realised that the ocean I had once trusted was no longer recognisable. The once kind waters were now ceaseless walls of waves- black with debris and bodies- lapping without clemency at buildings and their inhabitants. My head snapped as I heard the name of a familiar town and I realised it was the place I had once visited- where I played with the local kids in summer afternoons. I stared at the unrecognizable carnage on the screen and wondered where they were. The reporters announced the rapidly growing death toll as images of destruction appeared. They weren’t statistics; they were real people- people who had families, identities, and lives. People just like me- yet they had lost everything. How long would it take to rebuild? Years? Decades? I found out only a few months later just how wrong I was.
I was given the opportunity to travel with a small team of my schoolmates to one of the most heavily affected areas to serve. As we drove into our destination town on that frigid December morning, I was perplexed. Yes, there were signs of the terrible catastrophe that had occurred months ago- yet the town bore no resemblance to the pictures of the utterly defeated places in the news.
“Amazing,” a teacher remarked. “They’ve cleaned everything up.” We all murmured in agreement, gazing out the windows with wide eyes as we drove on.
We passed through a different part of town and finally witnessed the full extent of the damage that had been done. On either side of us were massive lots the size of three football fields, piled with rusted, broken cars- each stacked on top of one another. Every single one of those cars had once belonged to someone- be it an individual or a happy family of four. For the first time that day, a somber mood slipped over us and we were completely silent. We drove on past the grave of cars and into a residential area.
Then, I saw it: a newly built shop, standing proudly in the midst of the empty, destroyed shells of houses. It was a nondescript building that I normally would not think to look twice at. Yet, in that very moment, it sparkled under the golden rays of morning sunlight and I remember feeling the oddest sensation of pride and hope in my heart. This one little building that would be otherwise insignificant in a world of normality embodied the very spirit of the Japanese. I began to see similar buildings popping up like survivors amongst the skeletons of deceased houses, all bathed in the crimson glow of the rising sun.
When I feel consumed by fears of the inexorable, I remember how these people had witnessed the betrayal of the ocean on their towns and continued to exist, even while surrounded by reminders of their tragedy. They know that the darkness could return at anytime but still rebuild and live their lives without succumbing to the fear of being destroyed again.
On that day, I learned the true meaning of the rising sun. There are heartbreaks and misfortunes, just as with the tragedy that had befallen these brave people. There will always be times of darkness, but the light will return and wipe your fears away in the blink of an eye. The sun surrenders itself to the lonely night everyday- yet, it pulls itself up from the depths of darkness to ascend proudly to the sky and cast its rays of light over the world once more.
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