The City No Longer Forsaken

"They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted." ~Isaiah 62:12

Monday, May 11, 2015

Chasing the Sea: Our Unintentional Disaster Tour

Even though there are radiation counters up in all the parks in Fukushima City, they mostly tell me that life is not so far off from normal. The levels are very, very low. But there are times when the fact that we're living in the aftermath of a major disaster feels a little more real. This Golden Week was one of them.

Joel and I wanted to get out and away for the long holiday, so I asked my students where we could go to get to the ocean, knowing that there was still a lot of tsunami damage. They said "Iwaki". That made sense. I had seen friends from Iwaki post about beaches reopening. We set about planning a little two day trip.

I wanted to stop somewhere in between Iwaki and home so that our babies had a break from their carseats and found a camp ground / sports park by the ocean. It had a lovely webpage where all seemed well and up to date. So, we mapped our route and set off our first full day of vacation. I had carefully checked our routes to make sure we wouldn't get blocked by the evacuation zone, but it turned out that two of the major highways, according to some internet news articles, had been opened for through traffic only. We could have driven very close to Dai-ichi if we'd wanted. But we opted for a further west road. Still, very soon it became clear that if we weren't IN the evacuation zone, we were right alongside it. Every home and side road was gated off. And a few mysterious bags began to appear along the side of the road. Soon there were many.

I couldn't guess what was in them at the beginning. But as we saw whole fields filled with bags, and huge piles of something covered with canvas, I knew exactly what they were: the topsoil that had been stripped from schools and parks to get the radiation levels down in areas that are still inhabited. What to do with the radioactive soil is a controversial matter, and the government has been bringing it to the evacuation zone.

We were getting very close to our destination, and I was starting to have an inkling that we were not going to bring Nathan to the park we'd been promising him. Everyone on the streets was wearing a construction worker uniform. Our little family of white people, squinting at our maps and with car seats in the back, drew "what are you doing here??" stares.

When we found our way into the park, everything was gated off and the only people around were doing construction. I hoped Nathan wouldn't see the empty slides and swings as we turned the car around and tried to figure out our next destination. The poor kid had to have known at least a little about what was going on, though, because he began requesting with more and more urgency, "Get out!" We found a gas station, and I explained that I had young children who were tired and hungry, that we had our own food, and that we just wanted to know the closest place to eat it. They gave us a restaurant name. It got us back to the highway we would need to go on to our hotel, though, and so we decided to drive along it and try to find somewhere to stop. We pulled out into one more place that said it was an ocean park. This one was the strangest of all. There were lots of cars parked...and even buses driving through. But there were no passengers on the buses and no people to be seen. I still don't know what it meant, but we gave up without looking further and went to the restaurant.

I felt the loss of human life distinctly when the disaster first happened, and I don't want to minimize that at all. But I felt a totally different sadness going to Iwaki this time around. The loss of the ocean. We drove just a little bit through the actual tsunami zone. The first picture I have here shows a sign along the side of the road that showed that we were in the site of the great flooding. There were still gaps in the houses, but the signs really were necessary to tell you that was where you were from looking at the land. Much of the ocean, on the other hand, seems to be the site of major construction projects. 

One of my favorite things to do is to sit on the edge of the ocean and get lost in infinity. I sit there and look at the boundless water and let the ocean preach the infinite nature of our creator and his love to me. It is rest at the deepest level. 

Now, it's quite possible that if we weren't in a car with two kids, there still would have been a way to be persistent enough to do this. But what I found as we drove along the sea where the water had came in was that much of the ocean now looked like this...

Nathan loved the construction equipment, of course. But rather than turning into a relaxing day to play and rest, the day was a reminder of how much life is still NOT back to normal in many of the places touched by this disaster. 

We ended up checking into the hotel early. I asked them where we could go to see the water and once again got very strange looks. I wondered if I was being insensitive. I thought that people wanting to visit Iwaki's beaches should be a sign of hope, but the hotel workers explained to us rather delicately that people didn't really go to the ocean anymore. They suggested the aquarium, which was our plan for the next day anyway. Our kids really needed to be done driving, so we gave up for the day. Joel took Nathan for a run around outside and I lamented that we had just done four hours of driving to give our son a walk. But we made the most of it. One of the wonderful things about being two years old is that new places are exciting, even if they're just streets and hotel rooms. 

We did have fun the next day at the aquarium. Nathan made me really sprint to keep up with him in the crowds at some moments and left lots of fingerprints on the tanks. 

And he got a little time in the water. The aquarium has created this beach for kids to play in. You can see the boat behind us that is the real water, and the huge pump in the middle of this area to bring the water in. There are tide pools on the side, even, where the kids can go in and touch starfish. It was a fun little tame beach, well bounded and safe. Nathan was in heaven, and carried handfuls of sand to dump in the water for as long as we let him.

I found myself thinking about C.S. Lewis and Narnia and the famous line about Aslan. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “...Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

I can't imagine what it is to live alongside the ocean, that same ocean that preaches the infinite love of God, having seen it sweep in and sweep away houses and lives. What it means to KNOW that the ocean is not safe. I imagine that when they sit and stare at the water, they don't think about love. I don't blame them at all. I don't blame them at all for the concrete barriers being put up, for creating little safe places where kids can play without fearing the waves or the radiation counts. At the same time, I feel sad. Sad because I love the roar of the waves and losing myself in infinite horizons. Sad because I can't believe how hard it is to get to something so big. I wondered how often I've done the same thing with God. I've walked with him enough to know that C.S. Lewis is dead on. God is not safe, but He IS good. And sometimes, walking along with Him, there are Job days where everything we hold dear is torn away the way so many precious lives were in Iwaki. When the One who was our refuge suddenly seems to be the one who is against us, it's so tempting to build those concrete barriers to keep Him out, or to bottle Him up into something that seems much safer to deal with than the open sea or the God of the Universe Himself.

We did finally find somewhere to gaze out on the ocean. We circled around a seaside park until we found a little stairway leading up to a lookout. It wasn't marked, and there was no parking. Certainly it was not a place we could set out lunch as I'd hoped before getting Nathan back to play at the aquarium as promised. But for about two hurried minutes, the scene below was mine. And the ocean still preaches louder than peoples' words to me: He is worth the danger.

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