I heard a click on my answering machine at about 11:10 in the evening here in Sapporo, Japan. I never get calls that late, so I turned it on to listen to the message. It was a friend in Sapporo who simply said, “Turn on your TV.” Because I didn't have cable at the time, it was rather difficult for me to understand what was happening or the implications. Maybe for that reason I was able to go to bed and sleep.
The whole next day (9/12 in Japan) I had the TV on and little by little grasped the horror of the situation. I had no classes that day and was alone in my apartment, so had no one to talk to about it. That evening I went to my Japanese chorus, and the everyday chatter was going on as though nothing had happened. I slumped into a corner, and a couple of friends came over to see if I was all right. They had no concept of the impact it had on me - or on the whole world, for that matter. I can recall mumbling something to the effect of, “It's war,” and they more or less pooh-poohed me, saying it wasn't that bad.
Somehow I made it through rehearsal (I stayed because we had a concert a week later, but I didn't have the breath to sing very well). At the end I asked the conductor if I could say a prayer. Being Catholic, he agreed. I gave it in English, so few probably understood, but it was basically a prayer for peace. No one responded or talked to me afterwards. In fact, after that a former member - an Alto - gave the announcement of her engagement and forthcoming wedding, and was surrounded by people congratulating her. I was overwhelmed by loneliness.
The next day I had private classes, and one student in my afternoon class who had lived in the U.S. came over and hugged me as soon as I came in the room. That was the first time I was able to cry. Finally there was someone who understood!
A few days later I got an email in Japanese from my chorus. We were going to add a piece at the beginning of the concert the following week, and some suggestions were given. I didn't know the names of the pieces in Japanese so asked my private students what they were. One was to the tune of what I know as “What a friend we have in Jesus,” although the words in Japanese are not the same. I immediately vetoed that one and suggested “Amazing Grace,” which is what we ended up singing. When we got to the words, “Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come; 'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home,” I nearly broke down. American friends who were in the audience later told me they were weeping.
Somehow I managed to make it through the concert on 9/19. It took every ounce of energy that I had. Afterwards, I collapsed, sobbing, in front of my locker in the dressing room. No one came over. The other Sopranos were slowly changing into their street clothes and leaving. It was a desperately lonely time.
A few weeks later, one of the Sopranos took me aside and talked to me quietly about family members she had lost in the Hanshin earthquake in Japan on January 17, 1995. She had never mentioned it to me before and tears came to her eyes as she talked. What it made me realize is how private the process of grieving is in Japan.
I succeeded in filling two cardboard boxes with recycled teaching material. Having spent days, months, and years accumulating and organizing it for use in various level classes, it was not easy to just throw all that hard work into a box. Much of it, however, has been around for several years because either I've refined the material and put it on my computer, or I have easy access to similar - or better - material on the Internet. In fact, I wasn't even sure what I'd come across in the piles I went through.
I didn't enjoy having to remove all the staples, but I wanted to be sure it was all perfectly recyclable. The effort was also worth it because I have that much more office space now (a luxury in Japan), and the clutter was taking up mental space as well. It's great to feel a bit more clear!