What If Japan Was My Problem?


“John, I just can’t handle this Japan thing anymore.

Apocalypse right now. Does radiation smell?”

It was Crazy Mike. My Cousin from Chicago. I knew I shouldn’t have picked up the phone. But he’s family. I could listen to him with the sound down on the TV. The Marquette game was on. Janet was off doing something on the Internet. The beer was cold. He is family.

“Yeah, I hear you Mike. They got it rough. I never seen anything like that.”

“John, the pictures of the old people standing in perfect lines trudging up the steps to escape the water. Nobody pushing, screaming, looting. Jesus John. Those people are just. . .well hell. I don’t know how to say it. You got big time news people talking over there. Their voices cracking. They don’t know how to describe this.”

“Yeah,” I said as a point guard hit a three from half court. “It’s rough. And you got to hand it to them. Gotta respect those people. They know how to handle this kind of thing.”

“John, I don’t know if there’s ever been this kind of thing. I wonder if we gotta start thinking about this differently.”

“Mike, this was a natural disaster. I didn’t make the earth move and the big waves come. I already sent a check to the Red Cross. It wasn’t much. But I don’t have much.”

“No, no no. I’m not talking about money. I got less of that than you do. In fact I don’t even know too many people that have much of that anymore. I’m talking about something different. Can I explain?”

There was a commercial on, so I said, “Sure.”

“OK. Here it is. I’m talking about changing the whole way we think about this.”

“Mike, did you start one of those on-line philosophy classes again?”

“No. Can’t afford um. What I’m talking about is thinking, ‘What if this wasn’t just a Japanese problem? What if this was our problem too?’

“Mike. I know you’re a sensitive guy and all that. And that’s a nice thought. But you’re on the northside of Chicago. I’m in Cedarburg. Just north of Milwaukee. Neither of us is north of Tokyo. We can feel for them. Or we can pray for them. But we can’t be them.”

“No wait. Let me finish. We can’t be them. That’s not what I’m saying. Listen, you know how everyone has their own story? Every single person is different in some way or another? Right?”

The game was back on. I knew I wasn’t being hit up for money. So I settled in. “Yeah. I guess”

“Well, what if there is a collective story as well? One we all share. A common story.”

“Like communism or something? Is that what you’re talking about?”

“Are you sure you’re a real history teacher,?”

“Yeah. Yeah. I hear you. Ok. So there’s a collective story. I can see that”

“Are you sure? I don’t think most people would buy it. Not really.”

“Who wouldn’t?”

“Well, people who don’t get that there could be something bigger than themselves. I’m not criticizing. I’m just trying to describe what I see. When you start talking about something bigger than the self, its a pretty quick jump into religion. And I see people carrying around their hatred of religion like a badge.

All those who were abused by religion, those who are more comfortable with science as an explanation because it can, maybe someday if we get good at it, leave nothing to the imagination. Those who don’t believe there ever could be a higher power.

Those who are so sure of what they believe that it makes your teeth hurt? Ever have a conversation with someone who was positive about NOT believing anything? I bet they’d think that a collective story was a boatload of crap. Because to have a collective story, there’s got yo be forces larger than the self. Forces we don’t totally understand. And there are a lot of people who do not like that kind of thinking.”

“So you’re telling me I should go to church? Mike, you didn’t join a cult or something did you?

“No, it has nothing to do with church. Especially if your faith is one which includes doubt as an essential element.”

“What does that mean?”

It means you don’t pretend you know everything. Or that what you believe or don’t believe is any better than anyone else. Guy named Paul Tillich. But that’s not important now. What’s important is that you believe there is something larger than you.”

“Something larger than you?”

“Yeah. It’s a hard thing for most of us to get. Especially if we try and do it alone. I know I couldn’t understand it alone. Not that I’m an expert.

But I think it comes down to thinking that I am not the center of the universe.

That there is one collective beating heart.

Because if that were true, if there really was one story, one heart that included all of us, then it would mean that we are all in this together.”

“OK. Lets say I buy this. I mean you know how long it’s been since I been to church.”

“Yeah, you tell me on a pretty regular basis. Often my teeth hurt when you do. But like I said, it’s only about church if you choose it to be about church.”

“Ok, so if I buy this, this idea that there is a collective story. A larger story that we all play a part in—what do I have to do?”

“Well I . . .oh wait. This is interesting. The news just came on.”

“You’re watching TV too?””

“Yeah. And listen to this story. The radiation alarms in the airports in Seattle, Dallas and Chicago just started going off today as passengers got off the planes from Japan.”

“No way.”

“Yeah, but the government said don’t worry. It’s not the people. It’s the luggage. The luggage has the radiation contamination. It’s coming from medical equipment. So no one has to worry. Kind of reminds me of how no one was supposed to worry about Hitler before World War Two.”

“Oh that’s good. I feel much better now.”

“Yeah.”

So Mike what is it you were saying? Sum it up for me buddy. What’s your point? How are we supposed to start thinking about this differently?”

“It’s this. What if there was a collective heart? It included all of us.

What if this wasn’t their problem?

What if it was our problem?

What would we do differently?”

2 Responses to “What If Japan Was My Problem?”

  1. Paul Haider Says:

    This is the worst thing that has happened to Japan since the USA dropped two atomic bombs on Japanese cities in 1945; FDR would have been opposed to the idea if he hadn’t died from a stroke some months earlier. Crazy Mike reminds me of Roger Wright from Chicago, but he also reminds me of Tom Joad and what he tells his mother during the last time they ever see each other in The Grapes of Wrath; maybe we don’t have any soul of our own because we are all just a part of one big soul (collective heart). Of course, everybody’s got a hungry heart.
    Paul Haider, Chicago

  2. Ted Schneider Says:

    I see the pictures and read the stories and have to wonder how will they ever clean this all up and get back to normal. Normal will have to be adjusted based on their situation. It is easy to go about our daily lives and only pause momentarily since it is so far away and it is difficult to truly comprehend the situation. What if this happened here? I doubt people would be calmly waiting for assistance – it would be like a scene out of a zombie movie.

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