Right now, we are all Japanese

The place:United States Air Force base, which was named Itazuke Air Base back in 1959. The date was probably sometime in July of that year; I can't be totally certain because I'm getting the second hand version of the courtesy of years of re-telling through both of my parents. But I was a fifteen month old inquisitive toddler, according to Mom, and my sister Tam was four months old. As the story goes, a colonel and his wife took care of Tam as my exhausted mother slept on the very long flight from Travis Air Force to Itazuke, where we were to join my father and live on the base. Apparently, the colonel's wife still held Tam in her arms as we exited the plane. My father approached the couple and this was the dialog that he says took place:

Dad: Give me my baby!
Colonel's wife: How do you know she's your baby?
Dad: Because I would know my stuff anywhere!

Dad, in his millionth re-telling of this story, says everyone cracked up laughing. I don't think I did. At 15 months old, I probably looked up at the adults who were, once again, behaving strangely.

That was my introduction to the great nation of Japan. By the way, my father still refers to Tam as "Stuff". She does not like it, but after 50+ years, what can you do? Yes, he does have a nickname for me. And no, I'm not telling you what it is. Way too embarrassing.

There's another story that my parents liked to tell us and everyone else who would listen. (An aside: Isn't that what parents do? Tell stories about how you were as a baby, even though you have no memory of the events? Pretty ingenious, actually. You are therefore rendered unable to refute their authenticity.) The story goes like this:

My parents took Tam and I to their favorite Japanese restaurant in downtown Fukuoka(I wonder if that's when I developed my love of tempura and chicken katsu), and after dinner, decided to walk around sightseeing. We were all enjoying the evening (that's what they said anyway) when two Japanese women who have been described as young on some occasions and elderly on others, approached us. They were smiling, pointing at Tam and I and speaking way too rapidly for Dad to figure out what they were saying. Upon seeing that my parents had no idea what they were saying, they picked up Tam and I and sauntered down the crowded sidewalk as if it were the most natural thing the world to take two American children with them. Mom said she looked at Dad (with her typical :O expression, no doubt) and they followed the women while yelling, "Hey! Where are you going with our daughters?" or something like that. Who knows? The story changed over the years.

With our parents chasing them through the crowd, the women took Tam and I into a shop. When our parents rushed in, the ladies had Tam and I sitting up on the counter top. They were laughing and touching our curly-Q hair as if it were the most amazing thing they've ever seen. We didn't seem to mind because our mouths were stuffed with rice candy, which is (if you've never tried it), is very sweet and chewy. My mother, the ultimate clean freak, must have felt sick when she saw our candy smeared, sticky faces.

The ladies were unperturbed by our parents appearance. They smiled and pointed to the Shirley Temple dolls that were on display in window. Apparently, they thought my sister and I were chocolate-covered versions of the 1930s child star. After they figured out what was happening, Mom and Dad laughed. The women meant no harm to us, in fact, they were quite generous (Tam and I probably felt that way), and very courteous. Language was the barrier that prevented them from expressing what they thought to my parents. They bowed deeply to Mom and Dad and lovingly stroked our faces before handing us back to them.

That's the only impression I have of our time in Japan--being fawned over by two ladies who admired our curly hair adorned with ribbons, perfectly starched petticoat dresses, lacy ankle socks and shiny Mary Jane shoes. (Another aside--I know we looked like that because that's how Mom dressed us until we were transferred to Forbes Air Force Base in 1964. I had no choice in the matter when we were at Itazuke, but as I grew older I hated being dressed like a doll.)

This early emotional connection to Japan is what I feel now as I watch hour upon hour of CNN coverage of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear power plant crisis. I remind myself that God knows more than I do, but I still feel deeply sad and horrified by the devastation rendered upon the people of that country. I know I'm not alone in these sentiments. Most of the people of this world, save for a negligible and quite ignorant few, has united in prayer and hope that Japan will completely recover from this tragedy.

I turned to Baha'i Writings for reassurance that this, like many other tragedies suffered by human beings all over the world, is a test of faith in God's Will for mankind, and that Japan will experience the healing that will inevitably come after such tests. This is what I read in Shoghi Effendi's book, "Japan Will Turn Ablaze!":

Letters and Cable to the Bahá'ís of Japan in the Early Days,


My well-beloved brethren and sisters in 'Abdu'l-Bahá: --

Despondent and sorrowful, though I be in these darksome days, yet whenever I call to mind the hopes our departed Master so confidently reposed in the friends in that Far-Eastern land, hope revives within me and drives away the gloom of His bereavement. As His attendant and secretary for well-nigh two years after the termination of the Great War, I recall so vividly the radiant joy that transfigured His Face wherever I opened before Him your supplications as well as those of Miss Agnes Alexander. What promises He gave us all regarding the future of the Cause in that land at the close of almost every supplication I read to Him! Let me state, straightway, the most emphatic, the most inspiring of them all. These are His very words, that still keep ringing in my ears; -- "Japan will turn ablaze! Japan is endowed with a most remarkable capacity for the spread of the Cause of God! Japan, with (another country whose name He stated but bade us conceal it for the present) will take the lead in the spiritual reawakening of the peoples and nations that the world shall soon witness!" On another occasion, -- how vividly I recall it! -- as He reclined on His chair, with eyes closed with bodily fatigue, He waved His hand and uttered vigorously and cheerfully these words in the presence of His friends: -- "Here we are seated calm, quiet and inactive, but the Hand of the Unseen is ever active and triumphant in lands, even as distant as Japan."

(Shoghi Effendi, Japan Will Turn Ablaze, p. 71)

Abdu'l-Baha' said, "Japan will turn ablaze! Japan is endowed with a most remarkable capacity for the spread of the Cause of God!" According to CNN reports this afternoon, Japan is 90% Buddhist (Shinto), although Christianity and other religions (the Baha'i Faith being one of them) comprise varying amounts of the remaining 10%. Japan, working with another country, (I wish I could say it will be the U.S., but something deep inside of me says that is just nationalism and ego talking), will "take the lead in the spiritual reawakening of the peoples and nations that the world shall soon witness."

I pray that we are witnessing the beginning of this spiritual reawakening now.

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