I’m going to deviate from my normal discourse on economics and my discussions on improving your corporate model to talk about something that is far more important. A few days ago Japan experienced, for the second time in its recent history, devastation that raced across her countryside obliterating an entire infrastructure and taking thousands of lives.
What must they be thinking right now? How resilient will this nation have to be? These people in this horror must find a way to rise again and look this most terrifying reality straight on, survive through it and thrive even when they think they cannot. And they must do so with a sense of purpose and resolve the rest of us could not understand because they will find this strength in a place they have visited within themselves once before. Which of us can imagine the face of such morbid fury? And for almost everyone living in Japan and growing up in the long shadow cast by two bombs dropped over sixty years ago upon a society that could have never imagined the horizon of devastation that lie ahead, they now, once again, have that black sun rising upon their innocent faces.
I was just a child reading about the bombs that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima and we, as school children, were elated as the teacher told us about the evil empire of Japan that once existed and how we were forced to do this terrible thing to stop them from continuing a war that was strangling the world - a war we were told that the Japanese showed no interest in surrendering to even in the face of certain defeat. As a child I wondered why they had to bomb not one but two cities. Wasn’t there some island…some remote location where they would witness this horror without being subject to the barbaric and cataclysmic effects of this inhuman atrocity? This was to be capitulation through the evaporation of women, old men and children. There were no soldiers of any consequence in either city
Years later, as a Marine facing the docks that would take us all to Viet Nam, I strangely thought back to that moment and how that once evil empire was now one of our greatest allies. They would become the only country to draft into their own constitution a law that would prevent them from ever developing the outrageous power of atomic bombs and nuclear destruction. They would not pursue - even though they have proven they could very well have done just that – the same brutal technology which had been perpetrated upon them. They as a country, people and a government would never participate in the fury that came with the end, not just of their soldiers fighting in the trenches, but the women and children left behind in the nearly empty cities. Cities that were probably filled with people who, like many of us, were struggling to make sense of this war after so many years…a war that left them hungry and desperate. The letters from the front telling them as they told us that this one died or that one has gone missing. We were right to fight this war but we cannot deny that ordinary people suffered grievous personal loss brought about by a group of men who decided a fate that would engulf a nation…a world.
I wondered, would Viet Nam one day become our friend? Would all the lives that were being tossed into this death pyre be suddenly neutralized by the country we now so hated when it became a friend of America’s at last? Well, it did end as I had expected and the result is much the same. Today tourism to Viet Nam is a fascination for many Americans. Do they not realize the ground they walk on is soaked in the blood of so many young Americans…the blood of Mark? More about him in a minute.
The world was different in each case and for each war. The war against Hitler, Mussolini and Emperor Hirohito was different than the war against the unknown names of the north versus South Viet Nam. The people of the United States were not in favor of this southeastern Asian war. They protested, ran away to Canada, burnt draft notices and spit on soldiers. They blamed the soldiers as they returned as if they themselves had sat down one day at some large table and said – “You know I don’t like being here in the beautiful countryside enjoying a Coca-Cola on this peaceful summer Sunday afternoon - let’s go kill strangers!”
The soldiers were every bit as much the victims as were the people of Viet Nam. Names today are a blur…General Giap, Hanoi Jane, General Westmoreland, President Johnson - so weary from all the blood on his hands he ended up saying “I will not seek nor do I intend to run for President a second term.” Of course, his first term was actually the result of our beloved President Kennedy being killed by some strange, over-zealous, insignificant radical who bought his gun through a magazine!
A lucky shot brought all this about. Kennedy had said only a few months before his death “We should not get involved in sending troops to Viet Nam. I am opposed to sending our boys to fight a war there.” Had he lived would we not have gone? Would Mark still be here and would we still be buddies?
Now about Mark Pulisiano. He was handsome, strong, funny and my best friend. He got me busted for sneaking a candy break when he was on fire watch during boot camp at Paris Island which was every bit as scary as any war could ever be. We fought about it…then laughed about it. I waited for the right opportunity and got him busted for hiding cigarettes…it was a beautiful thing. We fought about that and then laughed about it. He didn’t die in Viet Nam so his name is not on the wall. I found this out from a client who visited the wall and could not find his name. I have never been to the wall and don’t expect I will ever go. But the war killed him as sure as it killed any name on that wall. He was blown up by a mine, shot then stabbed and left for dead. They took seven hours to get to him but somehow he managed to stay alive. He stayed alive for several years…well he hung onto to life for several years. In the end the wounds overcame him and he died. His family moved away and they drifted apart. They were all just fatigued watching Mark slowly lose his battle to ever fully return. I lost touch with them and just about everybody in my life.
Now what does this have to do with Japan and the tsunami? Everything! Wars and natural disasters are very much the same. They take from the left and the right, the front and the back, the good and the bad, the rich and the poor. They are indiscriminate in their sheer grim delivery of death. They don’t care – like bullets and bombs – tsunamis just do what they do. How many Marks are missing in Japan this very night? Men and women who are the best of friends, dearly loved by so many and loved so completely by a very few, like I loved Mark.
I remember the viral video with the woman and the phony parking space where she pulled down the fake sign and rolled up the plastic tarp…remember that one? It was unbelievable. She was so inventive. How many of us wanted to make our own space downtown and here she was filmed by a couple of young men waiting for her space laughing as it disappeared. That was Tokyo wasn’t it? Were people killed there? Is she okay? Are the people who took the video okay? If you are please post another video and let us know you’re doing okay…we are watching for you.
Sixty-five years ago the most awful thing we thought could happen to anybody happened to everybody in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Did they understand the leaflets falling from the American planes that told them to leave? Or, did the government tell them not to worry, like ours did so many dishonest times over the years? How many Marks listened to them and stayed? How many families hung onto the sick and dying until they finally - in terrible pain and grim fashion –passed… before the families themselves, exhausted from the journey this kind of grisly death exacts, gave up and just bowed their heads said some innocuous last words to one another and moved on after throwing the last bit of dirt on the grave of a loved one. Like Mark - who could have been a great dad, grandfather, great-grandfather and my best friend. How different would his life have been? How about mine?
Japan, for the second time in the lifetime of the country’s memory, is digging through unimaginable ruins for the remains of the people that made up their lives and, in some strange way, made up ours. The land is drunk with the blood of the love so many have lost. The ground is bloated with the corpses of children, women, young men and old alike – loved and unloved…known and unknown. They will be digging for a long time. And long after the news stops, they will be talking about the dark days of this horrible catastrophe in Japan and many will still be digging - maybe not through the hard rubble of the boards and bricks - but through the snapshots of the memories they will cling to ruthlessly, protecting for themselves alone, desperately bitter for the moments they were denied; the mothers of sons and daughters and the children of the many parents. Lest we forget the prisoners who could not be moved, the sick washed away in the hospitals, the fishermen trying to save the precious boats that measured the income their family needed to survive…all lost. Lifetimes lost in a moment; a moment we pray we will never understand.
Many people will ask “where is my God at this horrible moment?” Some will scream “this is what sin brings”. Others will wax philosophically about some “great plan”. Atheists will shout “this is just more proof”. It is proof alright; just not proof of an absent Creator. In the end, the mother whose lifeless baby rests in her muddy hands will only have the one question…”why her and not me?” She will never get that answer. I have never gotten mine.
I have often passed the grave of the one I loved without as much as a tear. I have cried myself out. I have drunk my guilt to death. I have hated myself to death and back and I have never fixed the broken part of me. I can tell that mother that she will never fix hers. No comfort there I guess; just a sad, awful truth. There are some things we cannot understand – they are so far beyond our wildest imagination they defy human comprehension. They smell of mad and ugly chance. They build cathedrals for atheists to stand in and pound their podiums just to say “I told you so!”, but they have no more of an answer than the ones that utter inane platitudes about Noah’s ark.
I believe that Jesus came to save us all. He came to save Mark from his grisly life. He came to save me from my suffocating guilt and he came to save the poor people in Japan from their staggering loss. He didn’t come to stop these things. He came to say “I will love you despite them and through them. I will love you through your despair, your anger, your misery, your terror and your own end”. You cannot choose the things that will happen to you in the dark of night as the world unleashes her violence or old men decide to send young men to war. But you can choose how to respond to them. I will respond to this with money, tears and prayers. There is nothing else I can do.
I did not choose to be this man…
I did not choose to fight this fight…
to suffer this confusion that drowns me…
to end up on this road all alone…
But I do choose you, my Lord.
I will not, in my time, understand the sun’s setting upon the good and the bad…
But I do know that you chose us…not in our times of wealth and fame but in our moments of grief and loss.
You chose us not when the sun was at its warmest in the fullness of our youth with the whole world ahead of us and the possibilities endless…
You chose us when the sky turned dark and there was no tomorrow from where we stood that day…
And because you choose me at my worst, I chose you at my best.
America’s prayers are with you Japan.
We are on our knees.
Our hearts are broken.
Your loss is felt.
Peace be with you…the peace that only God can give. Let the noise subside as you get through this terrible time; to come out to a time of peace, quiet and hope…blessed, sweet, soothing hope.
CEO, The Bosson Group