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Letter from Nagasaki

Dear Editor, Our daughter, Kerstin Beyer ’00, has been in Nagasaki, Japan, since late July, as part of the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. Her duties in the program are teaching English to junior high school students and serving as an intermediary for non-Japanese visitors to Nagasaki. She is also volunteering at the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum. In a note to Kerstin in mid-August, I wondered if she had attended any of the events commemorating the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, and recommitting Nagasaki to promoting international peace. I had seen mention of the events on a Nagasaki University Web page. Her reply follows. Sincerely, William Beyer

Dear Mom and Dad, I did, in fact, make it in to the city for the candlelight vigil on Tuesday, August 8, but what your Web page doesn’t tell is that at exactly one minute to 8:00 p.m. the heavens let out a huge rumble, cracked open, and dumped a ton of rain on the monument and the park. Five minutes away at the Garlic Restaurant, I decided to sit tight. Forty-five minutes later, when the rain had turned to a trickle I headed over to the park. Although the crowds had dispersed with the rain, one elderly couple sat facing the monument marking the hypocenter of the explosion. They sat in full rain gear, on a rain tarp, staring into an awful memory.

I turned away and headed up to the Peace Park itself. There I listened to some folk musicians singing for a TV crew in front of the fountain, the lights of Mt. Inasa in the background, a stunningly beautiful scene amid the memory of destruction.

The following morning I returned to town for the rest of the commemoration events. The tram was slow, and as the clock steadily ticked toward 11:02, I was wishing the tram would travel faster toward the hypocenter. A feeling that was thick with irony. Fifty-five years earlier people would have been racing the other direction had they known what 11:02 would bring. I jumped off the streetcar before the Peace Park in hopes that I could get to the hypocenter in time.

I was hurrying alongside a Japanese man, and just as we entered the edge of the Memorial Park, he halted and so I followed his move, and that is when the tears began to fall. As I looked around, everyone was standing with their heads bowed and their hands clasped before them–the people waiting for the bus, the shoppers in the stores, and of course the crowds gathered at the monument straight ahead. The whole city stopped for 30 seconds. The only human sound I heard above the sirens was a woman painfully crying out in Japanese some kind of list from which all I understood was "Nagasaki" and "Hiroshima." Her tone, however, told enough.

Once the sirens stopped, antinuclear protesters began to move down the street between police in riot gear, and I edged closer to the marching crowd. I ran into a fellow JET participant almost straight away. She was as moved as I. Around the tall thin stone sculpture that marks the spot the bomb hit, people–young and old, Japanese and gaikokojin–had joined hands in a double ring as if the memorial were a Maypole, and everyone walked around it singing songs of peace. The sun was hot, and the colorful reds and greens of the origami paper cranes were flapping in the welcome breeze that occasionally provided relief from the heat beating down. I couldn’t imagine what it could have felt like with a thousand more times that heat. Too much too much too much.

My friend and I headed up to the ceremony at the Peace Park where hundreds, maybe thousands of people had gathered to hear speeches on peace, appeals to support Nagasaki’s commitment to oppose nuclear weapons, and a whole chorus of children sing a song about the thousand paper cranes for world peace. It was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Still, the only positive that I can see in the dark cloud over these events is the reminder to all of us today to be thankful for our lives and to live them to the fullest–something I am certainly reminded of often in this town. Love, Kerstin