Yesterday, I walked downstairs and saw a woman I didn't know, sipping tea with one of our team members. Chipped pottery was strewn on the coffee table around them, and when I bent to take a closer look, they broke off their conversation briefly to apologize for the mess.
I found later that this woman, whom we'll call Mihoko (name changed for privacy), had driven 45 minutes from her hometown of Wakuya to bring us pottery after last weekend's typhoon. Typhoon Hagibis was the hardest typhoon to hit Japan in the past 60 years, and her aunt and uncles's home had been flooded. Mihoko's hope was that Nozomi Project would be able to make something beautiful out of this brokenness as a way to bring healing to her family. She seemed strong, chatting pleasantly with our teammate at length. Her visit even stretched into lunch!
In the final few minutes before she left, her demeanor changed. She finally opened up to our teammate, sharing tearfully that this typhoon brought flashbacks from the 2011 tsunami. We never actually found out where she was on the day of the disaster, but we know she lost family members. This same aunt's former home on the coast had been washed away in 2011. In conversations about the typhoon, her aunt inadvertently called it a "tsunami", even though they now live well beyond the reach of the sea.
In fact, a number of people have mentioned that the flooding from this typhoon brought back memories of the 2011 tsunami. The damage from Typhoon Hagibis is far less, of course, but the trauma from 2011 runs deep and resurfaces easily. The image above was taken in the Inai neighborhood, about a 10-minute drive from Nozomi's workshop. In the image at the top of this post, you can see the local bowling alley.
One missionary friend later talked about the importance of volunteers treating items with respect, even as we're helping throw out what has been damaged by disasters. Perhaps the owners don't want to throw them away... but they're damaged now, so they must. These items may still hold deep and meaningful memories for the folks that've survived. Mihoko gave us so many gifts -- her time, to drive out to us; her family's pottery, which still holds treasured memories; her permission, to share her story with all of you.
Throughout her visit, we saw Mihoko progress from a seemingly strong, cheerful donor to just another woman who carries the weight of brokenness in her life. By the end, she asked for help cleaning out her aunt's home. She apologized all the while not only for her request, but also for her earlier tears. This follows a pattern we've seen before -- it's hard for Japanese people to ask for help. They have a strong instinct not to impose their needs or heavy emotions on others. We are so honored by folks like Mihoko who give us the opportunity to glimpse their real selves and to give generously to them.
One thing I was especially struck by: our teammate also has deeply painful memories from the 2011 tsunami, but has since led visitors' tours, sharing about the way Nozomi helped her find hope after the disaster. Yesterday, our teammate was able to comfort Mihoko in a beautiful cycle of healing and paying it forward.
Nozomi has a core value of giving back. Our 7th Anniversary Necklaces do that beautifully -- each purchase helps donate toward typhoon relief.
As Mihoko left, I had one lingering thought. Making broken pottery into jewelry gives it new life, to be worn and enjoyed by folks around the world. By donating her family's pottery, Mihoko was in a sense giving their memories a chance to be revived.