More than four and a half years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. But even now repair work continues. The entire sewer system in Sendai, for example, is being replaced. So one after another streets are closed off as work progresses round the clock. That means that roads are often bumpy and bandaged with temporary patches. But those minor inconveniences and ungainly looks remind us that things are getting better. So, we are happy.
The same can be said of work being done on private homes. New ones are popping up everywhere (sadly most without gardens), while others are undergoing renovation. In fact, the entire area seems to be getting a facelift. And that, too, makes us feel hopeful.
My friend Izumi’s home and property present a more hidden opportunity to gain a sense of mature hope. Izumi’s situation is atypical because of its extreme nature. However, the story is worth telling because of Izumi’s admirable example of patience and persistence, even as the world around her has been a relentless blend of stalemate and collapse.
The steep wall behind Izumi’s home was severely during the 2011 disaster. It was wedged between her house and several others below. So, it was virtually impossible to reach in order to make repairs. Izumi explored one option after another, even going so far as to consider using helicopters. Unfortunately, the expense and complication of this issue were so overwhelming that even Sendai City, normally so generous with assistance after the earthquake, refused to help.
Added to that, one disgruntled neighbor did all he could to block any proposed solution. Japan works on consensus, so everyone must agree before action can be taken. Consequently, for years many things were at a real impasse. That is, everything except the wall. With each rainfall, it disintegrated further, despite the thick blue mat protecting it. And as it gradually retreated, the house’s location became more precarious, threatening to collapse over the edge.
This desperate situation continued, seemingly with no end in sight. But impressively, Izumi never gave up. How could she? Her mother lived in that house, loved it, and refused to move. “My husband and I cut down trees in a forest and built this house over 60 years ago. If I die here, that is fine. But I am not moving,” she would stubbornly say.
Despite the overwhelming odds, Izumi held in her frustrations and continued seeking ways to deal with the unending hurdles. And then, totally unexpectedly, things began to shift. The bank approved her request for a loan. A friend found a reliable and (relatively) affordable company to repair the wall, and another to renovate the house. And amazingly, the uncooperative neighbor backed off and Mama agreed to live temporarily in an apartment while the work was being done. And hopefully soon after the New Year Izumi’s mom should be back in her solidly renovated home. So this, too, is another happy ending to an inconvenience, this time a major one.
Imai Sensei’s work with the homeless has a slightly different slant. But it, too, is a story worth repeating. There has been progress over the years: men getting manual and agricultural jobs, for example, and old apartments being inexpensively leased to them by the city. But basically Imai Sensei’s efforts for the community will never end. Homelessness is rampant in Japan, divorce is on the increase, even among folks over 60, and the poverty and tragedy of single mothers are becoming disturbingly more common. Indeed, there is much hidden, and overt, suffering in this society.
And yet . . . and yet it behooves us to allow room for a flicker of hope. Izumi’s patience and persistence show us that. And so does the work being done by Imai Sensei, and millions of others like him. His and their never-ending paths of service must mean this world is not in a stalemate. Yes, we seem to be teetering on the edge of collapse. But even so, we have to trust that things are creeping forward. And hopefully soon the tide will turn away from today’s destructive forces, allowing a new attitude of rebuilding and repair to take hold, even as many seemingly impossible hurdles and inconveniences continue to block the way.