Thursday, November 24, 2011

Swept Away . . .

True Story of Hiromitsu Shinkawa
By Michael Paterniti
Illustrations by Yuko Shimizu

"Later, lost far at sea, when you're trying to forget all you've left behind, the memory will bubble up unbidden: a village that once lay by the ocean . . ."

With these words begins the story of Hiromitsu Shinkawa, a man who, two days after the Japanese tsunami, "was found, alone, riding on nothing but the roof of his house," nearly ten miles out at sea. I remember reading of this man in the news at the time, something like the rumor of a distant miracle, the report of a very lucky man who had survived the tsunami, but Paterniti retells the tragic tale as though it were our own poignant memory.

Hiromitsu Shinkawa's home survived the earthquake, as he and his wife discovered in returning from work immediately after the shaking had ceased, and they had sufficient time to head for higher ground, but did not, trusting that their property lay far enough up from the sea to be safe even if a tsunami should strike, which it does, a wave so large beyond all expectations that it comes to sweep everything away, even us:
And that's when you know you've been caught out, that you've squandered what time you had, that you must trust this house of concrete you've built to stand up to the sea. Your wife joins you on the second-floor terrace, reporting that she, too, saw the neighbor's house wash away. "We should run," she says, but you say, "It's too late." And then: "We'll be fine." Her arms circle your waist and lock there, while you stand stock-straight, gazing at the mountain, without daring to look back at the sea. These will be your last words to her -- We'll be fine. And you've already departed your body when everything seems to break beneath your feet and a roaring force crashes over you.

You never see your wife again, as you, improbably, survive. I owe a hat tip to my friend Malcolm Pollack, without whose link I would probably never have read this "almost unbearably poignant tale of the Japanese tsunami."

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At 2:07 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

My goodness.

At 3:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Or even stronger expletives . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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