Disaster, Disaster Relief, Orientation, The Inner Landscape

The Storm (Throwback Thursday)

The Storm, written by students from Biloxi.
The Storm, written by students from Biloxi.

Our puppy, Teddy, has decided that books are the best chew toy. We’ve caught him several times in recent days surreptitiously removing a book from the bottom of our big Ikea shelf system in the living room. He started with coffee table books, lying down to gnaw the corners of volumes also recumbent due to their extreme height. Then he managed to drag a picture book out and across the floor, and he hit the mother lode: photographs of a post-Katrina trip to Mississippi tucked inside the pages of “The Storm.”

I am in one of those pictures, standing with a small group of children, outside their church, Handsboro United Methodist, where I offered pulpit supply and emergency coverage as a small gesture of support for a pastor on the Gulf Coast, ten days off to keep recovering from the physical and emotional damage of wind and water and loss. Months had gone by and great mounds of debris had been hauled away, but houses remained catty-corner to their original addresses while the people who had lived in them still sought safety.

With some of the children of Handsboro United Methodist Church, January 1, 2006.
With some of the children of Handsboro United Methodist Church, January, 2006.

The children are holding gifts sent by the people of Stevens Avenue Congregational Church UCC, where I was pastor. I traveled to Mississippi with a backpack full of gifts, tucked in the folds of a prayer shawl for their pastor.

In the picture, I’m wearing a dress from LLBean; I got it at a rummage sale for $3.00, at a church where I filled in just after seminary, a real score because it was unworn. That’s a pair of Birkenstock women’s loafers originally purchased for my oldest son when he was at that awkward size between boys’ shoes and men’s, worn by me for many years, through numerous re-heelings, re-solings. I wore a ponytail because a retired colleague’s wife said my hair looked unprofessional around my shoulders, but I kept it long to save money on haircuts.

I remember many things about that trip, the things I saw and many of the people I met and the stories they told me. I cannot forget the people who literally clung to tree branches to save themselves, who lost their brothers, or their dogs, or their homes, or even just their sense of direction.

It’s much harder to remember being someone who tried so hard to be so many things to so many people without leaving an imprint, who tried so hard to be ordinary and good and acceptable.

I want to tell her, “You have no idea of the storms that are coming. You will feel like a house off its foundation. You will learn what it’s like to perch precariously, clinging to what remains.”


And then I might whisper to her, “But keep hanging on, dear one, because beyond the storm there is hope. In the recovery from the storm, there is kindness, and love you won’t recognize at first. Don’t let go.”

Disaster Relief, Family History, Japan


Overnight there was an 8.9 earthquake in Japan, followed by devastating tsunamis.

LP has tears in her eyes about Japan. It’s such an odd thing, to have had a grandmother in love with Japan and now a daughter who is the same way. And as I think about it, how amazing was it that my grandmother, by the late 1950s, was loving Japan enough to go there, after her husband and son had been at war against Japan only 15 years earlier?

Uncomfortably, I know she went there thinking she was going to save the Japanese by making them Christian.

And maybe she did “make” a few Christians, but mostly she made friends, and they would be devoted to each other for the rest of her life. For my family, it meant many visitors from Japan, and three special young women who came to live with us, one after the other. I remember Hideko as gentle, kind, sweet. She taught me to play the piano. Takae was prettier, less approachable. Yoko was just fun. She was the youngest. She was more help around the house! It’s a class thing, my mother said. Upper class girls had a Jane Austen life; middle class girls had to learn to do actual useful things.

My heart is full of Hideko, the one who kept in touch with us over the years, and her husband and her daughters and her beautiful grandchildren. I’m thinking of Takae, and of Yoko, more ephemeral in our lives. I wonder if they are afraid, if they are safe, if they have the resources to protect themselves. They must all be in their 60s now, retirement age nearly, if they retire there when we do. Will Hideko’s husband–Nobuo, I finally thought of his name–be involved in recovery efforts via YMCA? Are they offering shelter to others?

They are on my mind this morning. I’m looking at horrifying pictures of the tsunami waves, fiery debris flowing across farmland like a scene out of SimCity, boats and cars being thrown around like Matchbox toys in a bathtub. 
8.9 would be the fifth most severe earthquake since they started keeping records in 1900. 

The first family quarrel I ever knew anything about was the one between my mother and everyone on her side of the family about whether my grandmother should make a final trip to Japan. I was about 18. Grandma G had the trip planned, and then she had a car accident, and her son, my Uncle Walter, put his foot down, saying there was no way she could go on that trip. He was worried she would have another small stroke, or even die, while she was in Japan.

It never occurred to me at the time that he might have his own reasons for hating Japan, for hating the place his mother loved. And I may be reading in something that was not there.

My mother wanted to let her mother go. She could travel through airports in a wheelchair. The host family had already built a ramp to make life easier for her (or did they do that after the accident? maybe). They were prepared to care for her.

With the cold-bloodedness of youth, I said, “What does it matter if she dies there? She’d be happy about it! It’s not like they can’t fly her body home.” And my mother apparently agreed. And maybe hearing my young ruthlessness helped her to stand up to her brother on her mother’s behalf. I don’t know.

It’s a scary world. Anything can happen. This morning, or rather tonight in Japan, people are trying to figure out where their loved ones are, feeling considerably more sentimental about the whereabouts of bodies than I did all those years ago. I’m a mom now myself, inclined to nervous insanity where my loved ones are concerned, but I hope I’ve raised children who would support me in pursuing my happiness even if I were so old it shouldn’t seem like it would matter anymore.

My grandmother was 80 when she made that final trip to Japan. Oh, and she lived to be 86, so it didn’t kill her. It was a happy, happy time for her. In pictures from the trip she looks positively gleeful at being back in the country and among the friends she came to adore. In the end, the friends in Japan saved her by giving a middle-aged widow renewed purpose and a sense of joy and connection that extended over oceans and years to a somewhat bossy elderly lady in a wheelchair who had to get back there one more time to feel complete.

I’ve never been there, but my heart is in Japan today.

Disaster Relief, Prayer

In Haiti

Bendrott This is a picture of the Bentrott family: Kim, Patrick and Solomon.

Kim and Patrick are Global Ministries (UCC and DoC) missionaries in Haiti. I just found their blog and read Kim's recounting of the past few days

Kim's position is sponsored by One Great Hour of Sharing, and that is one place you can donate to help people in Haiti right now. Money is being sent directly to the UCC's mission partners in Haiti:

"In terms of giving, UCC constituents have contributed a record-breaking $135,000 in online donations to OGHS International Disaster Relief in the first day of the Haitian relief request. Three donations of $2,000, 14 of greater than $1,000 and 31 of greater than $500 lead the list of giving.

Funds from these and previous donations are already flowing to mission partners in Haiti including $20,000 to Church World Service for relief kits and $5,000 to Interchurch Medical Assistance who will provide medicine and supplies to area clinics. Additional distributions will be made as relief and recovery efforts continue." (From the UCC website)

Kim Bentrott also mentions Doctors Without Borders, the wonderful organization I've been supporting in a modest way ever since the tsunami in 2004. I got started because of a plea from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, otherwise known as Yarn Harlot, who asked readers of her blog to step up and give whatever they could to Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders. Their hospitals in Haiti were destroyed, but they have — get this!!! — an inflatable hospital

We're giving as a family both via the UCC and to Doctors Without Borders. 

And I'm also doing what Kim Bentrott suggests (among other things I hope you will read) on her blog:

"So many have asked "what can we do?" To this I say, keep praying."