This is a scary, scary world we live in. The terrorists are scary, our government's somewhat overzealous negativity is scary-- sometimes, I don't even think I recognize the world I grew up in under all this new paranoia. I'm not saying that a great deal isn't justified. What I'm saying is that people's reactions, their constant cries for the government to protect them from everything... that's dangerous too. I worry, because the first thing a security state does is convince you that you need to give up your rights for your own good, and then they just don't give them back.
While I was in Japan, the general attitude towards the bleak situation in the world seemed to be "Well, things are bad, but they've been bad before, and we'll get through this. It's what we do." I wish I could have bottled some of that up and taken it home with me, because here... all I'm getting is bleak and barren future.
One morning, Yoko-san and I were sitting in the kitchen. Her husband and kids were gone already, off to work and basketball practice and what not. It was a cool morning, and Yoko-san had the door out into her tiny garden open. The lights in the kitchen were off, and the sunrise was just bringing out the shadow of Mt. Fuji. We were finishing up our breakfast, taking our time, having seconds on rice and tea. She asked me what I thought of what was going on in the world.
"In Lebanon, you mean?" I asked.
"Everywhere," she said, "I watch American TV sometimes, on the satilite. I'm very confused. Things seem..."
"Like they're on another planet?" I finished, reverting to English briefly for effect.
"Very alien," she nodded.
I told her that I worried about my country, because I didn't think anyone had a solution, even if they claimed to. I told her that I felt sometimes like we were attacking shadows, and that people in the government were taking advantage of people's fears to break our system down.
"Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran," I counted off on my fingers. "We attack countries. But our enemies are not countries."
"Not real soldiers," she agreed, "not under a flag. North Korea is not a country, either. It is... it is a prison. Everyone there is a prisoner."
"If anyone has a right to be paranoid, it's you guys," I said, meaning the Japanese. "He's right in your backyard. But in America, we seem to like to panic over everything. There's no sense of proportion-- hypothetical bird flu and gas prices are on the same level as war in Lebanon."
It was getting light outside at that point. The neighbor's little boy came out to open the paper doors and check the chickens in their little coup. We watched him together for a moment, before I said that I worried about children. About the ones who couldn't remember before September 11th.
"We don't stop," Yoko-san said, looking oddly determined, "Human beings are like very hardy plants. It's bad now-- but there are bad times. That's just life." She looked at me, "In Japan, religion is only most important when you're born, when you die, and when you marry. Otherwise, just acknowledging the other world is all you need to do. In America..."
"It's very different. And the terrorists-- they're a cult." I responded, "It must seem very confusing." She nodded.
"Obasan," she nodded towards the door across the garden, where her mother-in-law lives in a small extension of the house. "She was small, maybe nine or ten, when Hiroshima happened. She was in Kobe-- she remembers." After a pause, she simply said, "We don't give up."
We sat there, and Yoko-san split a peach for us to share. Then we got up to do the dishes.
I need to keep that tiny kitchen in my mind's eye-- I need to believe what Yoko-san says. My mother grew up during the Cold War, and my grandmother grew up during World War II and the Great Depression. It seems bad when you're in the thick of things.
But we don't give up.