March 11, 2014. I am standing on the sidewalk in the shadow of a skyscraper outside the Japanese Consulate in downtown Seattle on a beautiful sunny day, exactly three years after the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent triple meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi. “Good afternoon sir, would you like to learn more about Fukushima?” I extend my arm in a posture conveying energy, friendliness, and openness. My hand holds a flyer with health information regarding the hazards of nuclear radiation, news resources, as well as suggestions for citizen action.
A few muscles twitch in one side of his cheek, signaling that he has heard me and at least for a nanosecond contemplated the boundaries of his known world, but he does not break stride, continuing on down Sixth Avenue, perhaps to a business lunch, to see a friend, to the gym, or some other destination. I have been in his shoes and his state of mind many times, sidewalk-autopilot, carrying out my mission in life.
We all have our collections of stories, the sum total of which creates the “I” – that larger than life imaginary person who plays the starring role in our personal dramas. To the extent that the story is infused with truth, love, compassion, and wisdom, the story shines with a powerful brilliance, like sunlight spreading out across the arc of the planet, illuminating and warming every living being that moves. Those rare beings that can tell stories imbued with those enlightened qualities are the saints, enlightened ones and sages of our world, who visit now and then for the sole purpose of assisting us in awakening from our small stories that sometimes – at least speaking for myself – contain more shadows than light. The beauty of community is that in listening to and sharing our stories with each other, we have the opportunity to discover our shadows, mirroring the light of understanding and self discovery to each other on our mutual journey of awakening.
A few friends show up to join me in sidewalk outreach. We share smiles and words of support, taking heart that we are not alone, that there are others who are pressing the pause button on the collective societal story with its dominant themes of material progress, external wealth, unlimited consumption and economic growth. I had created the event “3 year Anniversary Vigil at Japanese Consulate” on Facebook, concerned by the collective stories chanted like mantras in the mainstream media in the aftermath of the worst industrial accident in history – that nuclear power is safe, that radiation can be safely cleaned up, and that “low levels” of radiation pose no threat (ignoring the frequent redefining upwards by regulatory agencies as to what constitutes a “low level”. The event was held in coordination with similar events at a dozen or so other Japanese Consulates in the U.S., as well as around the world.
Out of 1314 guests invited from around the world, twenty had indicated “going”, with twenty-two “maybe”. As a gesture of courtesy and protocol, I had telephoned the Consulate on Friday afternoon, requesting permission to deliver a letter of concerns to the Consul General to be forwarded to the Prime Minister of Japan. On Monday, the Consul’s office called me again to go over protocol, informing me that only one person would be allowed into their office to deliver the letter. Earlier, when I had walked around the corner at Sixth and Union, the uniformed security guards spotted me instantly. Clearly, they had read every detail on the Facebook event page and were mobilized in anticipation of a large crowd. I greeted them like old friends as I walked up and they smiled in my direction. Our initial meeting in January had been stressful for them, until they figured out my intentions were peaceful and I was not intentionally out to make their lives difficult but simply exercising my free speech rights, being careful not to infringe upon other’s rights. It was immediately clarified which crack in the sidewalk represented the demarcation between private property (where my free speech rights became more limited) and the public sidewalk.
Fast forward to March 11. A big casually dressed man walked over and asked me if I was Jordan. I said yes with a smile, and he introduced himself as Justin from the State Department, indicating that he was here to oversee the meeting with the Consulate and to act as my escort. I indicated that my intentions were peaceful and answered his many questions. It was becoming clearer as time passed that most of the people who had indicated “going” and “maybe” on Facebook, were coming in spirit only, and not in physical form. We were five in number, including a soft-spoken man in his sixties who rode his motorcycle up from Renton. He was a “down-winder”, born near the former nuclear weapons production facility at Hanford, who had recently buried his brother. He died of cancer.
Certainly there was no issue with needing a permit – required for large gatherings when public obstruction of the sidewalk was likely. Two reporters from a local TV and radio station showed up. I noticed that a significantly higher proportion of pedestrians accepted the flyers while the TV camera was filming me. Perhaps people thought I was a movie star? One of the reporters asked me why I was here and what my message was.
The moral and intellectual challenge presented to humanity by Fukushima is such that it cannot be neatly condensed into a thirty-second sound bite for the evening news. The scope of the worst industrial disaster in history is disturbingly complex, involving multiple scientific disciplines – nuclear physics, oceanography, genetics, public health, and a test of our willingness to face the potential for horrifying consequences to all life with a commitment to truth over political expediency and the comfortable narrative that “the experts” will fix everything. But of course, such a non-answer was entirely unsatisfactory for the reporter. I struggled to come up with a serving of macaroni and cheese that would be palatable for the average TV viewer, to no avail. She asked me if I was “anti-nuke” and I gently deflected any attempt to be placed in that box, indicating that I preferred to be portrayed as being for something – like a sustainable planet – rather than against anything. I kept thinking of Lakota Chief Arvol Lookinghorse’s powerful message at the United Nations, that all life is interconnected, and that without giving thanks and respect for the Earth Mother, without waking up to the cries of distress from nature and responding with compassion and wisdom, very soon we will destroy the very foundation of life which supports us, and with it, our children’s future, and the future of all beings.
A few minutes before 1:00 p.m., Justin walked over and asked me if I wanted to go up to the Consulate now. Walking through the revolving doors, followed by Justin and the head of security, I was politely greeted by Aikiko, a young woman from the Consulate staff. As we proceeded up the escalators, I engaged her with small talk, asking about the proper pronunciation of Fukushima. She congratulated me on getting it correct – most people say Fu Ku SHEE mah, however, the correct pronunciation is Fu KU shee mah. As we approached the elevators, Justin spontaneously asked me if I had any weapons, knives, anything that might be interpreted as causing harm. I said “no”. “Jordan, do you have a gun?” he abruptly asked. I said no, feeling slightly intimidated by the line of questioning which was now bordering on interrogation. “I have never owned a gun,” I replied, hoping to put him at ease.
Our procession exited the elevator and I was invited to step out first, though I had no idea whether to turn left or right – was the security team nervous, or just testing me again to see how I would react to unexpected situations? I calmly stood in the hallway and waited, following everyone to the entrance of the Consulate where we were buzzed in. I emptied my pockets, stepped through the metal detector and was ushered into a small bare conference room with an airport lounge style couch and a few chairs, joined by another staff member from the Consulate.
It had never occurred to me to consider what my reception might be like. Having done years of meditation, with a singular focus on being in the present moment, I sometimes neglect to anticipate unexpected situations, preferring stubbornly (or wisely?) not to have expectations. I suppose in one of my fantasies, I would be invited to sit in an antique chair, served fine Japanese green tea, and warmly engaged in conversation regarding my interest in Japan. I could have told them that my eleven year old is studying Japanese and that we had eaten delicious noodle soup at the Tokyo airport once. Whatever such notions I held of intimacy, elegance, and relaxed conversation were quickly dispelled as – still standing – with all eyes upon me, it become clear that they were waiting for me to speak.
I presented the small paper bag containing the hand folded origami peace cranes that my daughter had made – seven in total – supposedly a lucky number in every culture and very briefly summarized the contents of the letter I had written, addressed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: Thank you for your welcome. I’m here to offer my condolences for the great tragedy that occurred three years ago – the earthquake and tsunami, and the suffering caused by the subsequent disaster at Fukushima Daiichi. Our deep prayers and wishes are with all the Japanese people, that their resilience and indomitable spirit may enable them to quickly recover from these unfortunate events. I’m also here as a global citizen to express my concern over the ongoing radiation emergency caused by Fukushima Daiichi, and to impress upon you the importance of taking this matter very seriously. We need to act quickly in order to protect the children and all life.
I bowed in an expression of humility as I offered, with both arms extended and palms upward, the manila envelope containing two signed copies of the letter. The staff person bowed in receiving the letter and, after quickly realizing that there would be no green tea, no polite cultural exchange, certainly no policy statements on Fukushima, I indicated to Jason that I had completed my mission. I had planted a seed of awakening in a crack in the edifice of empire, imagining that one day that seed, combined with innumerable other seeds planted by legions of peaceful activists, might one day grow into a lush verdant paradise covering the entire surface of the earth, a pure land environment where the basic elements – air, earth, water – are pure and life giving, where internal and external disease are unheard of, where people and all life live in an atmosphere of mutual respect and love. Namo Amida, Buddha of Infinite Light.
Exiting the building, Jason thanked me for my cooperation and he asked me if I had accomplished what I had wanted. I told him yes, adding that it was the Japanese children and my own daughter that had brought me here, sharing how challenging it can be as a parent, committed to truth, with knowledge of the many problems of sufferings on the planet, simultaneously carrying the hopes and dreams of all children in my heart and hands. “Do you have kids?”, I asked him. “Yes, four” and he hinted that he understood the dilemma I spoke of. We shook hands and went our separate ways, certain to meet again at one of the crossroads within this infinite time-space universe.
In the evening, I attended a screening of “Reactor”, hosted by the Moontown Foundation, connecting me with a roomful of other artists and visionaries striving to build community through facilitating the telling of new stories that bring healing and awakening to people and planet. Recalling the contrast between light and shadow in our personal stories, although at times, we glorify the light, we need not fear or demonize darkness. Beauty is revealed in the interplay of light and shadow, and the serenely steady mind which observes impermanent phenomena, flashing across our retina, leaping from neuron to neuron within our cortex, maintaining perfect equanimity and openness as we continually update our stories, until perhaps one day the story dissolves into a perfect stream of consciousness with no fixed boundaries – the no-story story. Meanwhile, enjoy the journey and keep telling and listening to stories – yours, other people’s, and the stories of all living beings, the Earth and stars.