March 26th, 2011
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The whole world is watching as the Japanese rebuild their lives with quiet diligence.

News reports show incredible pictures of houses ripped from the earth, cars piled on top of each other and even the concrete tsunami walls built for protection have been broken up and easily tossed aside.  And then there is the nuclear issue…The enormity of the human and physical devastation in Japan as a result of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is difficult to comprehend and just seems endless.

But one man in particular stands out for me.  I recently read an interview with this Japanese man, who asked to be called by his family name, Kikuchi, and his sentiments immediately struck a chord.  Through his shock, he was saying that we, as a larger human family, really do have so much more in common than we realize.

“My daughter is missing.  She is gone.  I was up in the hills above town and couldn’t get to her in time,” he said in a Reuters interview.  “I am looking for something that can remind me of her.  There must be something here,” Kikuchi said as he continued his search through the broken-up wreckage for any little piece of something that might belong to her or remind him of her.

The primal need to connect to someone loved and lost is an emotion that touches everyone.  No one can take away Kikichu’s memories of his young daughter, but his desperate search is for something more.  He wants physical proof of her, something that he can hold, perhaps something she once held, to reassure him that she will not be forgotten.

Sometimes you keep a possession that once belonged to a loved one because of what it evokes.  It’s not really about what the object is.  It’s about how the loved one used the object and how it reminds you of how much you cared about that person and how much you miss them.

When my Nana died, I wanted the small metal oblong telephone directory she kept by her bed.  To this day it reminds me of her because all the names, addresses and telephone numbers were written in her distinctive handwriting and no one else had anything like it.

When it was closed, the cover had a vertical list of the alphabet on it.  Beside the alphabet was a piece of metal that was shaped like an arrow and it was on a track so you could slide it up and down the alphabet.  Once you picked the letter you wanted, then you pressed a bar at the bottom of the cover and, presto, the directory would open.  It’s a precious memory for me.  In my mind, I still see my sweet grandmother in her lavender bedroom picking it up and using it.

I also talked to a young mother I know about this need to connect through a loved one’s mementos because her mother died when she was a teenager.  She immediately knew the emotion I was trying to explore and proceeded to tell me a story about how she and her father were cleaning out a closet a few months after her mother’s death and they found a raincoat that belonged her mother.

They both thought they had gathered all of her mother’s clothes so the raincoat was a total surprise.  She said her father just stared at it and didn’t say anything but she immediately grabbed it and wanted to smell it to see if her mother’s scent was still on the material.  The best thing, she said, was when she put her hand into the pockets of the raincoat and she found some balled up kleenex.  “I put them in my hands and closed my fingers around them as though I was holding my mom’s hands because my mom had held these kleenex at one time and I just felt closer to her.”

Let’s think of Kikuchi in his time of sorrow and hope that he finds something that belonged to his dear daughter; something he can hold close to his heart.

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