A man wearing a face mask stands in Shiba Park as the landmark Tokyo Tower is lit up at dusk. (Photo: AFP)
A short walk from my home is one of Tokyo’s too-few large public parks. In the 17th century what is now Shiba Park was the grounds of several temples that later included the tombs of several shoguns and the estate of a family of feudal nobility. It became a park in 1873, making it one of the oldest public parks in Japan. Today, it is home to the famed Tokyo Tower as well as the oldest wooden structure in the city, a temple gate that has survived time, earthquakes and war since 1622.
During the Second World War, emergency housing was put up in the park to shelter people whose homes had been destroyed in bombing raids. People who had lost their possessions, families, friends and neighborhood were brought together there until they suffered yet another bombing raid that destroyed that housing and many of the people in it.
As I recently walked through the park, remembering that the 75th anniversary of the end of that war is coming soon, I thought of those people and others who lived with terror, uncertainty, wounds, mass death, economic loss, social dislocation, devastation and the certainty of more to come, horror on horror, during that war.
That was an experience endured by people not only in Tokyo but all over the world, in Shanghai, in London, in Berlin, in Leningrad, in Manila and in so many other places. Even those who did not live with death raining out of the skies shared the anxiety that it might happen unannounced any night or day. Most had the additional anxiety of knowing that people they knew and loved were in harm’s way, trapped in combat zones either as military or as noncombatants.
Then there were the men and women caught up in the maelstrom, the ones who were combatants forced to do and endure the unthinkable. And, of course, there were those people who were chosen as special victims, the Chinese “logs” used for medical experiments or the Jews, Roma, disabled, Slavs and others deemed unworthy of life.
And all anyone knew was that it was impossible to know when and how it would end.
Our situation is similar, though on a much less horrifying level, to that of the people who lived and died during that war, the most destructive (so far) in human history.
Because we are in the midst of a pandemic, during my visit to the park I wore a face mask and tried to maintain a safe distance from others. I do not want to become the intermediary for another’s getting ill.
We live with various restrictions on our movement, in some places little different from being hunkered down in an air raid shelter during an attack. We live with uncertainty, unable to know when a virus may bombard our bodies. We do not know if we or those we love will survive such an invasion. We may be unable to be with those we love.
Our economies are disrupted and many people have lost their livelihoods. On the political and social level, we see turmoil and fear. That in the land of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address Donald Trump draws the same sort of fanatically ignorant and fearful following as Adolf Hitler did in the land of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy is an omen that the aftereffects of this pandemic will likely last long after the last cough.
And all we know is that it is impossible to know when and how it will end.
Those men, women, and children of the 1930s and 40s were not all heroines and heroes. Some were. Some were villains. Most were people like us who did what they must and could in the circumstances. Some managed, others did not.
We who are dealing with the challenges of this time are not “wimps” because we chafe under restrictions imposed upon us against our will that are much less horrible than what they faced. We are like them, doing what we must.
Some of us will be heroines and heroes. Some of us will be villains. Some of us will be defeated and find our humanity marred even more than our physical health. Most of us will, like those people eight decades ago, do what we must and can to endure in the circumstances.
Besides what the scientists can provide, what will bring us through this pandemic crisis is communion. Not the sacrament that we are temporarily unable to celebrate in our closed church buildings, but the reality that must underlie our “Amen” to that sacrament.
We are and must be together even while maintaining safe physical distances and that means that we must care for one another, respect one another and at times even put up with one another, knowing that others are putting up with us.
*Quoted from Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
Father William Grimm is the publisher of UCA News and based in Tokyo, Japan. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.