Thursday, March 17, 2011

On survivor's guilt

I'm home.

It feels positively surreal. If I felt uprooted when I arrived in Japan, it was nothing compared to my departure. Within 40 hours of having decided to leave, I arrived at the airport in Norway. I feel as one of those toys in the arcade claw game machines where a metal hand pulls them up and dumps them into a slot from which they emerge on the other side of the glass as if in another world. This new world I've come into should be familiar - it is after all where I was born and grew up - but it is as though I haven't actually arrived properly, and my mind definitely hasn't shifted back to this reality.

It's funny how in all of this the people I communicate with seem to be divided into two very distinct camps: those who assume I will return to Japan as soon as I get the chance, and those who assume I most certainly will never want to do so.

The truth is, I am torn. That is, "never"  isn't really among the options I consider. I already loved Japan as it was, and the last week have only strengthened my feelings. I feel as though I packed in such a hurry that I forgot to take my heart back home.

But even if I know I one day will go back, I don't know when. Right now, there are practical issues. I have to wait for the situation to be clarified. I have to rest. I have to stay home long enough to warrant having gone at all. I have to figure out if and when my employer wants me to return, and what use I can be there then.

On top of this, however, are my own feelings. The notion that I somehow "deserted" is hard to fight. The sadness for what has happened is overwhelming - perhaps even more so when I no longer have my own security in mind. The fear for what might still happen - now only provided to me through the media (I am more than a little disgusted with some of the angles they are using) - is all-consuming. Only a very little seed of happiness to be safe, at home, with family, closer to friends, is pushing through all the gloom.

I notice that today - for the first time since Friday - I have laughed a little at other things than earthquake-related gallow humour. I caught myself "liking" a few status updates on Facebook that had absolutely nothing to do with Japan. I enjoyed walking outside today, even if I didn't enjoy the snow and cold (for someone who has had spring for weeks, Norwegian "spring" was difficult to readjust to). And I'm sure I'll gradually start to appreciate being home again.

My friend Tami has been talking about survivor's guilt, and I guess it is similar to what I am experiencing. While I don't feel "guilty" for surviving, I guess I do feel guilt - or, more accurately, shame - for having this reaction at all, when others are so much worse off. My experiences were not traumatic enough to warrant leaving, my safety was not sufficiently compromised, my hands could still have been needed to help. It isn't survivor's guilt, but rather, "abandoner's shame". Everyone - including myself - explains all the very good arguments why I have no reason to feel this way. Unfortunately, my feelings aren't inclined to listen to reason.

One of my friends suggested I let this rest for a while and allow Japan to recover from the immediate shock and start to rebuild. Then they might need me, and then I can consider returning, to look for my heart among the debris, as she put it.

Thus I have decided not to decide whether to return, at least not for a while. It depends. It depends on so many things - most of them out of my control. My primary focus is to rest, to recover, to not drown in all my mixed feelings.

21 comments:

Michael Offutt said...

Ah well. The flight instinct is pretty strong in us humans.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's not a decision you need to make right this minute anyway. And it wasn't desertion - a lot of the embassys are sending people home, both because of the radiation threat and the fact Japan needs its resources for its own. Besides, your plane ticket home cost money, which will go back into their economy. So you did something meaningful before you departed.
Keep talking to us as you need to, Cruella.

Bluestocking said...

I am glad you are safe, regardless of whether you don't feel you experienced enough of the tragedy first hand to warrant returning. I've always wanted to go to Japan and you have, you have seen it in all its beauty before this terrible thing happened, before more terrible things happen. You have Japan in you and it will need you to keep it alive whether you return or not so it can restore itself to what it was, what it needs to be for the Japanese people.

LL Cool Joe said...

Never say never.

I'm glad you are safely home, just rest and things will become much clearer to you. :)

Hart Johnson said...

I think this reaction is SO understandable. You DON'T have any reason to feel ashamed or guilty, but I get how the emotions would go there anyway. And I always knew you'd eventually go back... just the question of when... Time... writing to process (even if it is stuff you never intend to show anyone)... it will all start to squeak into place eventually... not the old place, but a new and fitting place...

Jules said...

Just remember you are human with human emotions. Our hearts we tend to leave with that which touches us. Give it time :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Kal said...

You reaction is so real that it shows that there are many many levels to this disaster. I admire you very much for your honesty.

Jan Morrison said...

you are so smart, Mari, both mentally and emotionally. Deciding not to decide is perfectly sensible. All love to you.

Kelly said...

I'm glad you got home safely. Yes, just take some time now to let things settle. When the time comes, I think you'll know what you should do.

Holly Ruggiero said...

Your reaction is understandable. You still have to deal with what happened to you in your corner of Japan. You still experienced a major event, saw panic, sadness, and horror in other people eyes. That’s a lot to deal with. Take time. I’m sure you will go back eventually, but for now take the happiness you find around you and hold on to it.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

I am relieved you arrived home safe. I can't comprehend what you've been through or what your thoughts are, but there is always someone here to talk to should the need arise,
Take care.
Yvonne.

sue said...

A colleague of mine had been working in Japan for years when the Kobe earthquake hit. He was close to the devastation, and lost many friends. He has never returned there to work, but visits regularly. I get a strong sense that he still experiences some of the confused emotions you describe. Perhaps allow your life to unfold in its own good time, and treat yourself kindly and compassionately - the same as you would do to someone you care for.

nonamedufus said...

You shouldn't be thinking in terms of being guilty. You should be thinking in terms of being very, very lucky. Lucky and safe. And WE'RE lucky you are.

Michelle Gregory said...

glad you're safe. hope you can rest. take time to grieve. be well.

Jemi Fraser said...

You have a strong and powerful heart Cruella. Follow it.

I'm so glad you're safe.

Take care of yourself - it really is the old cliche of one step at a time. *hugs*

LTM said...

ergh... ((hug)) you're just coming out of the shock of what happened. Jeezus--that was a horrific event that's still unfolding. Give yourself time to recover.

You can go back, but even if you don't, I'm waiting for the book that's coming~ :o) <3 xoxo

Anne Gallagher said...

It takes time for broken hearts to heal. And yours certainly is. Take the time you need. Rest. Enjoy your family. You went through a traumatic event. There's no need for survivors guilt or deserters shame. You just need to heal. When you are ready, you'll either go back or you won't.

DiscConnected said...

I am glad you made it home safe, and I'm sure your friends and family, as well as new friends in Japan, are glad as well.

Life is meant to be lived, and the best way to honor your friends in Japan is to make the most of yours, no matter where your path leads you.

Larry

Deb said...

You had to step back and breath and take stock of your life right now, and you did that. That is a smart thing to do. You will do what is right for you and there is nothing wrong with that.

February Grace said...

I wish I had words to tell you how much my heart hurts for all you're going through. I'm so sorry, I wish I there was more that could be said.

I am glad that you are safe.

Thinking of you.

~bru

Liza said...

I am going to go back and read several more of your posts, but remember this line, that you wrote on the previous one: "Speaking of resources. They are scarse. I feel that you should be pretty darned sure as a foreigner right now that the resources you produce are larger than those you consume. I started out feeling that leaving sounded selfish, but by now I feel selfish for considering not leaving."

Give yourself credit for making the best decision you could under extraordinary circumstances. I wish you strength and peace of mind.

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