Japanese tradition dictates the form for our school shows and workshops, more so in the elementary schools than the child care centers. We are often received at the door by the vice principal, who then brings us up to the principal’s office where we have a brief formal meeting, bows and all. Then we are invited to go and perform. After our time with the children, we are again accompanied by the vice principal to the principal’s office where we are offered coffee or tea, and a little snack. The principal often comes to see us in action, and they usually have a big beaming smile as they watch the kids’ exuberant response to the shows.
Today is day 5 up here in Ofunato. I’ve lost count of how many shows and workshops we have done, about 10 or 12 so far. Our audiences range from small groups of 30 preschoolers to yesterday’s very excited 200 plus elementary school kids. Often we have an hour time slot in which Guy and I perform and then offer a short workshop, or what we are calling playtime (depending on the age range). During those times it is quite easy to forget what has brought us here, and that is a good thing. The kids are transported, and so are we. As I type an earthquake rumble startles me. It is just a rumble that lasts about 20 seconds. It is the first I have felt here, yet it is leaves me with a strong unsettled feeling. It is not nearly as strong as the shaking I felt in the earthquake the day before we left Tokyo. One can’t help but assume that the rumble stirs up much more powerful feelings in the people living here.
It brings me back to what put my hands to the keyboard, a comment by the school principal yesterday, during our after show talk. During our extended discussion he explained the schools situation: 4 schools were sharing his campus, a lot of the kids traveling from outlying areas. Indeed as we talk I see 4 or 5 big buses arriving in the parking lot below as the school day is about over. The topic of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is brought up. It was suggested early on when we arrived (I can’t remember by whom) that PTSD was not part of the recovery conversation in the schools. Yet in every school principal meeting, when the topic is brought up by Guy or Keiko, it is clear that everyone is very aware of it, and they unfortunately are often remarking that they are observing it’s behavioral effects on the children. If the schools are equipped, or have capacity to resolve these issues is another matter.
It is about then that the principal says, “A lot of children are still waiting for their parents to come home.” He continues on talking in Japanese as Guy translates this comment to me before returning his attention to the conversation. I am quite stunned. The breadth of this event continues to expand its reach beyond the physical destruction and devastation. In my rational mind, I know it is part of the human fabric of life, and that similar tragedies are strewn around our world. But no amount of logic can explain it away, or dissolve these children’s’ wishes. My respect for the principal, not to mention all the teachers grows one thousand fold as he continues to discuss how they are coping and moving forward with life. Not only are they undoubtedly dealing with personal tragedies (this is the hardest hit area, and most have lost immediate family members as well as countless friends) but their powerful resolve to care and carry the children forward is true testimony to how high and deep we can reach in our daily lives.