A Bright Light 4

A

s Yoshiko stifled her cry, she noticed that she could move her body a bit more, and began to wonder if the moving ruble affected anyone else beneath it. If she could move more, maybe others in the same predicament could move as well. Maybe there was hope.

“Mr. Shimizu? Can you move?”

But all she heard were moans. And they were not Mr. Shimizu’s. Who’s moaning? Why didn’t I notice them before? When Yoshiko first regained consciousness, she was still in a daze. The first voice she heard was the one that was most familiar. But as she slowly gained a sense of time and place, her senses sharpened and she began to notice more than the darkness.

What happened? she thought. How did the building collapse? She tried to recall she had experienced up to this moment–she woke up, then ate breakfast, then walked to work and entered the office, then… A bright light, a flash that kind of filled the room, like a camera’s flash bulb when you look right at it. What was that? Yoshiko had no idea. All she knew was that she was trapped under some rubble and she had to get out of there.

“Mr. Shimizu? Are you there?” But she did get a response. All she heard were the moans faceless others.

Dear God, please help us, Yoshiko thought. She had never been an especially religious person. Like many young people in Japan, her life was filled with the symbols and rituals of religion, but little understanding of it. She knew that the state religion was Shinto and that the emperor was a direct descendant of the Goddess that created Japan, Amaterasu Omikami–the Great Deity Who Lights the Heavens–or at least that’s what the text books taught her. Every New Year, she went to the Shinto Shrine to give an offering and received from her mother or grandparents an amulet that was supposed to protect her, sometimes to help her with her studies, others times to ward off illness, usually a general purpose amulet. She would happily accept it, then shove it into her small dresser when she got home. When she went to the shrine, she always copied the adults she was with by washing her hand with the water at the well near the entrance. It had never occurred to her that this purification ritual was related to her taking off her shoes before entering a house, or the mounds of purification salt placed in front of many shops and restaurants around town.

At home, they also had a Buddhist altar in which were displayed a faded sepia-tinted photo of her great grandparents. Everyday before a meal, either she or Tadao would place a small bowl of freshly cooked rice–or whatever staple they had for dinner–at the altar as an offering. Tadao once wondered out loud why they had to waste such a precious commodity as their dinner–rice was so scarce–but he was roundly scolded by their mother. It was simply there way of honoring their spirits. Their grandfather was also a devout Buddhist. He was a strict vegetarian who refused to even kill pesky insects. Yoshiko, who wouldn’t think twice about swatting a mosquito feasting on her forearm, would stare in amazement at her grandfather who calmly shooed away the bloodsuckers by fanning his hand or blowing at them.

And yet, with all these symbols and practices around her, she did not understand religion very well. But she began to try very hard in the darkness of the fallen building.

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