by Harriet Worrell
I’ve seen film images of locusts swarming in, eating everything in sight, and then departing on the wind. I’ve seen movies take up the topic of swarming ants that eat everything in their path. There are many fictional films about catastrophic ice storms, volcanoes, and all sorts of natural disasters. All these put fear in the hearts of those sitting in a dark theatre eating popcorn. The fear peaks and is followed by a relief that the disaster was only fiction: quick catharsis.
In the recent days since Japan has suffered natural devastation led by the catastrophic twin disasters of earthquake and tsunami, the numbers of the dead have mounted by thousands. This was followed by daily evidence of acute distress and danger in Japan’s nuclear energy plants. We watched it all via television journalism, and it seems to have taken every image, compressed, to convince us that this was not fictional– not a movie spectacle.
The newscasters have offered up incessant chatter in combination with amazing footage, but behind that there seems to be an enormous public shock and silence. Americans talk softly while governments take action to assist as best they know how. National condolences are issued, but our world seems stunned into a silence at the visions of catastrophes of such magnitude. A few days ago, we could only conceive of such things in movie tales.
Television networks rushed to immediately move journalists to Japan to start the formula reporting of a big news story. The viewing populace, however, seems to have reacted differently and not followed the normal beating drums. Taking all of the disaster in has not been an instant media- arranged recognition. We are struggling with a more honest and human absorption rate instead of a media dictated one.
In response to this new tempo of awareness, the media will still insert its few happy ending stories as they usually do. They have covered the extraordinary cultural politeness that the Japanese have extended to each other under these dire circumstances. They have centered on the touching story of a baby found in acres of rubble and various family members reuniting. They went dreadfully awry by setting up a phone call between an American student who had been missing and his father; the boy was in obvious severe shock from his experiences.
Journalists have not even begun to grasp or communicate the national grief of an island nation—the third largest economy in the world– that days ago was flourishing and functioning. As the media tries to explain what is the news of Japan, somehow the US citizenry seems to better grasp the immensity of these events. They use quieter tones and sensitivity to understand the true story of uncontrollable nature unleashed and humanity, like toys, falling to its power. We sense what is right and are sad for the people of Japan before we are sad for ourselves.
The television news’ formula for a tragic story of this kind invariably includes pictures of students of all ages raising money to give evidence that they are learning what it means to care. Usually there are numbers of these stories, but with startling significance I have only seen one, repeated many times. A little girl has been selling her own artwork to raise some $300 to help the people of Japan. Maybe the fact that it is such a singular image is what gives it significance. This little girl’s drop in the bucket of need makes you so appreciative of one honest child doing a truly honest gesture. Lovelier still, it is a child making art to help heal a national.
Such actions don’t have to make the papers or be the highlight of the local television news or even be in the school newsletter. They don’t have to be on CNN. The actions can step out of the silence in the form of a dedication at a music concert followed by a collection from the audience that is sent to caregivers in Japan. It could be student musicians playing in a public location and passing the hat for the Red Cross. Students could dance to the honor of a nation under siege and struggling to recover. Songs could be sung. One little voice reading a single poem could acknowledge the Japanese people and their great losses. Young storytellers, actors and artists could perform and gather nickels and dimes to help international organizations do their jobs on behalf of a stymied nation.
If the adults of this land are stunned and shocked into a kind of depressive immobility, perhaps it is the children who will lead them to action. Their collections will start with the desires of children working quietly behind the scenes without applause or filming but with goodness of heart completely intact. So often, children prove to carry the necessary candles to the shrine of humanity
In WUHS-MS, there are growing signs of helping. In the library on the counter sits a plastic jug for donations. Elisabeth Benoit, Library Assistant, checks out books and talks with teachers and students about her friends in Japan where she worked for two years. She also mentions WUHS alum Elana Reed and her mother who live there.
Librarian Susan Piccoli has consulted fellows who went to Japan through the Fullbright Memorial Fund (Tom Reid, Jennifer Stainton, Wanda Stetson, Keri Bristow, and Nancy Kenison) to discuss raising funds. A reminder: cash is the contribution that does the most good. Sending goods seems to clog up any distribution system. Be sure to give any donation to a reputable group with a track record. Double and triple check any group or individual that claims to be raising funds; there are many raising funds for themselves at the expense of those in desperate need. Tragedy looses scams like opening Pandora’s Box.
My granddaughter was scheduled to leave April 3 to be an exchange student in Japan. She’ll not make the trip at this time, but she desperately wants to help the people who invited her to live in their homes, attend their schools and celebrate their culture. These are friends that she has never actually met, but they are connected. They matter to her.
Please contribute to any student driven effort to provide relief for Japan.
This article first appeared in the March 17th print edition of the Vermont Standard.