Last Saturday, my friend Felicia and I went to a talk on the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. The speaker was a lovely young Japanese woman whose family still lives the nightmarish aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.
Gerard refused to join us. He is obstinate about everything to do with my efforts to shut down Vermont Yankee, the aging, leaking nuclear plant 20 miles to our North. He says nuclear power isn’t his “issue.” “Well, what is his issue then?” Felicia asks. I shake my head and hold my tongue. I remind myself that I must continue to cultivate the serenity to accept the things (and people) I cannot change.
Back to the talk…. Chiho Kaneko lives in Vermont, but her parents and her sister are still living in the dreadful shadow of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. Chiho went home to visit her family recently, and came back with pictures, stories and a heart full of grief. She explained that she had never been a public speaker. Urged to tell the stories of her family and countrymen, she agreed to talk to us because we too live in the shadow of a nuclear plant – Vermont Yankee — built at the same time as the Fukushima plant. We too could find our lives completely changed because of a flood, a fire, a massive power outage. Her talk was a gift to us, words and pictures to help us grasp the full significance of what could happen in our lovely New England towns.
There were pictures of Chiho and her parents picking mushrooms, in the same way we go apple picking in the Fall and berry picking in the Summer. People in the Fukushima area were blessed, like us, with an abundant life – until suddenly one day everything changed. Throughout a radius of one hundred miles or more, the twin disasters of the 2011 tsunami and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear plant melt-down, destroyed their lives, the lives of their children, and many future generations.
Felicia and I watched slides of beautiful farmland and rolling hills, pictures that could have been our own beloved Pioneer Valley. We saw pictures of a young couple who had left the city life of Tokyo, seeking a healthy sustainable community where they could build a house and grow their own food. After the Fukushima nuclear plant, so much toxic radiation was in the earth that this couple could eat only cannned food, and were afraid to spend any time outside. Chiho’s stories of how it was before the nuclear meltdown sounded like those cheerful stories in our local newspapers – the high power financial investor from New York who relocates to find peace in the Valley as a bee keeper and organic bread baker. We have many such stories about our Paradise cities and towns.
There was no way to distance emotionally from the moment Chiho began to speak. She showed the faces and told the stories of her parents, her sister, and other individuals whose suffering and courage will remain with me a very long time. We saw farmland and mountains once beautiful and verdant, now radiated – poisoned forever. In the many places Chiho visited, she would show us a picture of the hand-held radiation meter showing the terrible levels of radiation that will live on as a toxic legacy.
As she reached the end of her talk, blinking back tears, Chiho gave us a most unexpected gift. She said “I would like to sing you a song.” She walked over to the piano at the edge of the church parlor. (It has been there since I was a girl and used to play dinner music for church suppers). She began to play a piece in the classical European music tradition, singing in beautiful soprano tones. The words of the song were not translated, but communicated a haunting grief that we all understood. Losing your home is a universal sorrow.