We stood in front of the middle school, the watermark above my head. The clock stood still, refusing to move for the past three years. 4:04. Calendar pages flapped with the slight wind blowing through the empty classroom. 2011 is not letting go.
Three years vacant; three years grieving.
Sixty cars lined up in the back lawn of the school. With an earthquake, the fear of aftershocks kept everyone from taking shelter inside.
Mr. Otomo sat with his radio on. Tidal wave is rising: 6 meters, 8 meters, 10 meters. Run. People left the warmth of their cars for the higher ground of the second floor in the school. Mrs. Otomo carefully led the three elderly women they bought with them to the evacuation center. Mr. Otomo noticed a large, elderly man, struggling from his wheel chair. This man, the husband of a woman who was coming to their church, would not reach the building in time on his own. Mr. Otomo took him under the shoulder and led him along. As they neared the last row of cars, Mr. Otomo looked toward the ocean and could not see the line of trees, which normally blocked the view of the water. The water was coming. He tried to put the old man on his back, but the man was too heavy. He called over a university student but the student ran right past. The student went to save his dog from the car. Mr. Otomo was on his own. As the water drew closer, the old man turned to his rescuer and with exhaustion in his eyes said, “You go on. I’ll be fine.” Mr. Otomo bowed gently, obeying his request. Before he could reach the steps, the water was to his knees. As he stepped into the building, he turned around to see that the old man, who he had left clinging to a car, was gone.
His body was found later, one building away.
He was the only person from that center to lose his life that day.
Mr. Otomo and his family lost everything. Their house was flooded and their piano has yet to be found. They’re building a new house now—with the help of Samaritan’s Purse—one that they will use for rest and reaching out to the community. They will have a community garden and a patio for tea. They will invite others in for tea and to plant; to create new life together.