Is our resolve too shaken this time?
This time last year was the last normal week pre-pandemic and we didn’t know it.
This time 10 years ago, a literal earthquake washed a wave over my shore and changed the trajectory of my life.
Those 10 years have passed as swift as the great wave which tossed trucks like toys in a bathtub.
I was a senior in high school on March 11, 2011, when that wave swept away babies, the elderly, their homes, vehicles, generations of artistry and family belongings.
The earthquake and tsunami that reached our shores destroyed our neighbors’ farms and killed nearly 20,000 people on a stretch of Japan’s Pacific coast wasn’t a far away headline this time.
This time, my family was stationed in Misawa, Japan, in the Aomori prefecture.
This time, my middle sister was walking home from the Yochien off base.
We lived on the joint air and navy base on the commander’s circle not a two-minute walk from the main gate, a 15-minute walk from my high school located further into the center of the military town within a city.
But cell phones weren’t attached to our hips 10 years ago, Zoom wasn’t a thing.
GPS was a clunky tool, one of navigational attachments on the dashboard of a vehicle in the states.
But we were still printing out MapQuest directions and translating bullet train maps.
I had a flip phone, but cell signal was gone after the big quake.
I had middle schoolers to supervise, shakers weren’t anything new…until the big one.
But this time was different.
“The shaking was so bad … it felt like I was becoming seasick,” said my former government teacher Jim Burgeson in an interview with one of my longstanding mentors at the Stars and Stripes Dave Ornauer.
Seasick, the ground moving beneath us and the waters coming our way.
Now, the Mid-Ohio Valley is no stranger to rising waters, to changes in hours.
But have you ever watched a wave the height of a 12-story building wash away the same highway you’ve traveled for sports events, not knowing if those you love are safe?
“Your parents need to know you’re alive,” recalled one of my peers of our coach, our art teacher and one of the men who stood for women’s equity and challenged his students to do the same throughout our time under his wings.
My mother describes in the aftermath sitting with other base leadership’s wives as a sobering, resolute discussion.
Our families were given the option to run.
Back then, they called it “voluntary evacuation.”
Airmen and Seamen who were deemed essential personnel had to stay, but their families who had accompanied them to our remote northern corner of Japan could be afforded a trip back stateside, to finish off the school year with stability on dry land.
Many families took that opportunity, some of my peers had their high school diplomas handed to them at the White House.
But, the spouses in that room?
They chose to stand by their husbands, to support the mission of Operation Tomodachi.
Tomodachi, or friendship, was our focus.
Our “new normal” as we dispatched buses of volunteers to clean up neighboring farms, clear roadways, forests, beaches of debris.
What is beautiful in experiencing such a drastic shaker is the psychological resilience it exposes compared with the lack of resolve it could, and as evidenced in the last year does exploit.
That time, we had elders in the community off base to look to, there weren’t stores raided or gas stations with customers filled with greed.
That time, we saw families teach compassion, teach work ethic through service.
To me, 10 years later, that event defined the beginning of adulthood, of having to shake off preconceived notions and broaden one’s perspective to a world outside the gate.
What happens this time? With a new shaker of our collective experience?
Can we, too, prove our resilience?
Janelle Patterson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.