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A Letter to Isaku by Yuri Kageyama

Dear Isaku, my son, and to all mothers’ children,

On March 11, at 2:46 p.m., the earth shook, shouted and shuddered, sending my office building swaying from side and side, creaking and groaning in pain with each sway, tilting the white ceiling in time to the swirls of dizziness in my head. 

That was the moment _ long moments of shaking and shaking that felt as though they would never end _ Japan’s biggest ever earthquake struck, squashing buildings and unleashing giant tsunami that swallowed freeways, homes and automobiles like toys. 

It has killed more than 10,000 people. Authorities say the toll may rise to 20,000 people. 

Although the epicenter of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake was off the northeastern coast, the jolt was clearly felt in Tokyo, more than 200 miles away. 

Having spent part of my childhood in Tokyo, I am used to quakes. But I had never felt anything like it.

I thought I was going to die. All I thought was: Let this be painless. 

And so now I know how my mind works when I am in the face of death.

Somehow, I knew you were safe.

It has never been scientifically tested. But a mother’s instinct tells me I will know if something horrible has happened to you.   

You know how we are connected, from when you first arrived, while you were being created, even before birth, linked forever in a spiritual umbilical cord that allows me to feel in the pit of my stomach your existence and if something has gone wrong with you. 

That is why I was able to find you, a tiny dot sitting among so many tiny dots, from clear across Tiger Stadium, when you were in junior high, a totally easy instinctual trick for a mother that has never ceased to amaze you. 

I knew you were safe.

But I thought of you. 

And don’t laugh: I thought of how shaky, how fragile, how liquid it was this ground of life that we stand on, believing with no reason that the next day will be the same as today.

As the disaster unfolded, chunks of maps that had been entire towns, rice paddies and airports had changed overnight into mud and rubble. 

And this nation now faces another potentially deadly and surreal crisis _ a nuclear meltdown at aging reactors spewing radiation into the air and sea. 

All over the world, outside places like Japan and the U.S., the two nations that we know best, people live in that kind of fear and uncertainty everyday. 

Suddenly, we have been thrust in that fear and uncertainty. 

Gone are our preoccupations with trendy brunches, night out at clubs, appointments with our hairstylist.  

Like others less privileged in this world, we tackle mere survival and restoration. 

We fear for things we took for granted just a few weeks ago, clean water, dying a natural death, career plans, freedom from radiation, food that is safe to eat.  

And we realize that those needs must be fulfilled first if we can hope not only for the simple everyday like going shopping and having electricity but also for so-called higher pursuits like music, poetry and design.    

You are an artist. You want to play music.

And that gift _ or that dream _ is what I’ve always wanted you to have, from the very beginning. 

It is a mother’s instinct. 

This is my conviction as a mother and as an artist. 

It is so precious, so rare and so delicate _ being in this special state of being an artist, to play music, pen a poem, paint a picture, move in dance, dream this dream. 

How quickly we forget. 

But all the premises dissolve when an office building bends like tofu, ships get perched on grocery stores miles away and the air fills with traces of strange things like cesium and tellurium. 

But I still want to give you art. 

If you have art, if you are in that state that you can worry and fear and anguish in art, that means you are not in war, that you are not hungry, that you are not imprisoned, that you are not in a disaster. 

Your name is Isaku, Japanese for Isaac, the name of the son that God asks to be sacrificed. 

I always thought this story was weird: God tests a good guy like Abraham by demanding he commit murder, and of his son, of all people?  

For the first time, maybe because I looked at my own death in that twisting office building, I finally understood this story.

This story is about how God tests us all the time _ through war, through hunger, through 9.0 magnitude earthquakes and 10-meter tsunami that kill thousands, through nuclear crises. 

That test, that horror, that madness _ they are all part of life. 

Like Abraham, we must stand that test.

Like Abraham, we must love Isaac until the angel comes to tell us Isaac does not have to be sacrificed at all.

We must do all we can for the future generations so that we will have a world where our sons and daughters can all be artists, and worry just about making beautiful things, not about being unsafe, hungry or sick.  

Isaku, my son Isaac, you will soon be studying at the Berklee College of Music. 

God was with us that you had already made those plans before all this happened. 

You will be far away from all this. 

Maybe some years later, when you return, filled with bigger dreams of music that only you can hear, this nation will be back to normal. 

The days will again feel like all those days before March 11, 2:46 p.m.

Yuri Kageyama

Your mother and poet  

March 26, 2011