By Samantha Loong
I'm not the kind of person to make a fuss about my birthday. I think it's great when people are excited about theirs, but for me, I like my special day to be a private, simple affair. For this year's birthday, however, I had wanted to tell all my friends about how cool, how symmetrical the date looked. Not only was it a quaint-looking palindrome, it was also fitting for my 31st birthday:
On March 11, 31 years ago, hundreds of thousands of people were brought into this world. Tragically however, on March 11 this year, tens of thousands of people were taken out of it.
I had already felt the sting of a tragedy happening on my birthday when on March 11 2004, two trains got bombed in Spain. As I consider Japan my second home, the scale of this most recent tragedy hits me especially hard. Though I have never been to the Tohoku area, to see its people and its landscape left in ruins is a truly heart-breaking sight. For days afterwards, in between contacting everyone I knew in Japan, I was glued to Internet footage of people running to safety. Even though this footage was not in the least bit live, and even though the tiny figures on my screen could not hear me, I found myself helpless in front of my computer, foolishly yelling at them to run faster. I, like so many others in Japan and around the world, saw and heard the thick, black mass of water so calmly, so effortlessly crunching entire buildings and enormous boats into nothing but splinters.
Witnessing this destruction, I've wiped away tears while at home, at work and even on the train. To have my other home New Zealand also be struck by a no-holds-barred earthquake several weeks beforehand has, needless to say, made the past few months a little gloomy.
I am eternally grateful that none of my friends, family, host families, teachers, former colleagues and acquaintances have been injured or lost in either of these disasters. However, people they know have been affected, and there is still much uncertainty as to when the country — and the ground itself — will stabilize.
This year, I felt guilty that I was even thinking about celebrating my birthday when others were suffering. Then again, if anything, this tragedy has shown me that we need to celebrate what's good in life. Though I might not be able to bring back those lost in the March 11 disaster, we now share something in common — a date. They will always be with me on my birthday — in my thoughts and in my heart. And from next year onwards, I'm determined to make a big, grand fuss to celebrate what is good in my life, with what was good in theirs. Because where there is good, there is hope.
Shukan ST: April 8, 2011
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