“I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for…that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.”
Paradise lost, John Milton
All the Bad Parts of the Bible.
When the initial Earthquake rattled Japan, it was intense. I immediately wrote a blog about my whereabouts at that moment and what transpired there after. It was all pretty ridiculous and that’s fine. I have my moments.
Everyone has been watching the news coverage of the events unfolding here. Massive tsunami ripping Sendai apart and dragging it out to sea. Huge destruction in Northern Japan. Fires in Tokyo. The Dainichi Nuclear Plant in Fukushima is crumbling away and radioactive elements are in the air.
Rescue workers and the government are scrambling to keep things from spiraling even further out of control.
People are trying to contact missing loved ones.
It could easily get worse. This is the message being sent by the foreign media and although it is not wrong, it also isn’t totally right. It isn’t the whole story.
The streets I walk along everyday in Tokyo are a little more quiet. People are moving a bit more quickly and there is a tension, something nearly palpable in the air. The people who have homes and families, jobs and dreams here are attempting to push forward and continue living, because there is no other option.
I stopped a stray soccer ball kicked across the street today by two boys, probably 10 years old, who were playing outside my home. I trapped the ball and kicked it back. The smaller boy, moved quickly to receive my pass, smiled and said “Arigatou” over his shoulder as he dribbled back towards his friend. I watched them both move away from me, laughing and joking like boys do, then I went about my business.
This simple event, something that could happen at anytime on any day, seemed to solidify a feeling I had in my heart and mind. It changed that feeling from merely a strong sensation, to a cold steel promise, and it hardened my resolve. It crystallized it.
Options and Choices
Since Friday, many foreign residents have left both Tokyo and Japan. Many foreign companies have closed their offices and sent everyone home. The French Embassy released an alert advising its citizens to leave Tokyo and flee to Osaka.
Not everyone has left; far from it. But enough have left that people have noticed.
I received an email today from a Japanese friend that read simply “Are you leaving Japan too?”
7 of her other foreign friends had already taken off. When I told her that “No, I live here. I’m not going anywhere.” she let the flood of emotions she had go. Fear, Disappointment, Loss.
Although it surely is a personal decision to leave Japan when times are hard, it makes a very deep and negative impact on the Japanese people who either can’t leave, or won’t leave their home.
While someone getting on a plane to escape might see it as a smart move, the people they are leaving behind see it as a kind of betrayal. And rightly so. It is betrayal in the form of abandonment.
Of course, it’s not only one’s Japanese acquaintances who feel this betrayal, but anyone that was once called “friend”.
Fidelity is the quality of being faithful or loyal. This is important when defining real friendships. The only friendships that matter, the only relationships in fact, are the ones we have with people who will stay when the pain comes. When the lights go off and people start screaming, the people who are still standing there with you are the ones that matter.
That is the commitment of real friendship or of any meaningful relationship.
To stay or to go
So, things get hard. The badness finds us. If you make a choice to leave, to leave your job, commitments, friends and home that is your decision. If you don’t feel there is a responsibility to stay, then there truly isn’t one and your leaving is reasonable.
Be aware that the flip side to that is that now you’ve made your feelings well-known. You have clearly demonstrated what matters to you and what doesn’t, and most of all, you’ve shown others where you’ll go when the next set of hard times shows up.
Do not expect to come back when everything is fine and find your relationships the way you left them. Fidelity it turns out, becomes vibrantly, wildly important to those who had something to lose, and stayed to keep it safe.
Virtue untested, is no virtue at all. What virtue could I ever claim to have if I climbed on a plane and flew to safety, while ten-year olds with no choices play in the street?
I could claim to have none.
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