Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"If I hate, I should hate war itself."

(Taken during the 9th grade field trip, January 29, 2016.)

When I wrote my novel, I didn't know her. But because I wrote my novel, I got the opportunity to meet her in Kobe, Japan. Sometimes things happen that you never expect.

Tiny, humorous, endearing, Koko Tanimoto Kondo told her story inside the Canadian Academy auditorium to ninth grade students. She was just eight months old the day her world exploded.  Literally. The Enola Gay did what it was sent to do over her hometown of Hiroshima. At just 1.2 kilometers away from the epicenter, the Tanimoto house crashed around Koko and her mother. When Mrs. Tanimoto regained consciousness, she heard a baby cry.

That baby belonged to her. She had to do something quick.

Koko was too little to know what was happening to her city at that moment, but over the years, she heard the story and now tells it to audiences across Japan and the USA. "My mother made a hole (in the debris) and was able to make it out," she said.  "Our house was on fire."   Her father was working at his church that morning, but desperate to find his family.

Koko grew up angry.  She wanted to "get back" at the people who had destroyed her city. She wanted to punch and kick those who had marred the faces of the older girls who came to her father's church after the attack. Their faces----distorted from the burns of the bomb's blast. Their bodies, disfigured and permanently scarred.

Authors always have their characters and novels close by in their hearts.  More than anything, we want to be authentic in our portrayal of both history and human emotions. As I listened to Koko talk, I briefly made a mental note:  It's in line.  What I meant was how I portrayed my characters following the attack. In my World War II novel, Under the Silk Hibiscus, I let my characters (Japanese-Americans living in Heart Mountain, a Wyoming internment camp) be devastated by what the USA had done to their country of origin. Papa Mori had family in Hiroshima----his home town before coming to California to raise his own family----and getting letters about relatives dying from radiation tore him up inside. He was only a shadow of the man he once was when the war finally ended.

Koko's words brought another scene from my novel to mind as she continued her talk.

When she was in fifth grade, she and her family (after their story had been documented in John Hersey's Hiroshima) were invited to be on the American show, This is Your Life. Koko recalled that day and lifting a fist into the air, told us that at that time she was ready to punch and kick the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, also a guest on the show.  She wanted revenge.  When the host of the show asked Captain Robert Lewis how he felt after dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, the co-pilot said, "Hiroshima disappeared. And I said, 'My God, what have we done?'"

Instantly, Koko saw the "bad evil" in herself.  "If I hate, I should hate war itself.  Not this person," she recalled. Slowly, like a crab, she walked over to Captain Robert Lewis. She just wanted to touch his hand. When she got close to him and reached out her hand, he took it and squeezed.


Nathan, my main character, forgives an American soldier from Heart Mountain, the camp where Nathan was interned.  Was the forgiveness realistic? As I listened to Koko's rationale for forgiveness, I knew that forgiveness for a act so grievous could be granted. For like Koko, my fictitious Nathan realized that he was just as wretched in his own heart as the soldier was. He desired to be forgiven and, in turn, knew that he wanted to forgive his enemy. God's grace.

Under the Silk Hibiscus at Canadian Academy in Kobe, Japan

Again, I made a note:  It's in line. Check!

Koko, now 71-years-old, promotes peace.  "It's up to you," she said to the students in the auditorium, as she encouraged them to become peace keepers. "Will you help me to spread peace in this world?  I want you to be the ones to change the world."

After her talk, I was invited to eat lunch with her and Bob Hengal, a teacher at Canadian Academy who was instrumental in bringing me from my home in North Carolina to the school as an alumna author. Koko's lively comments over each course that was served showed appreciation for the culinary experience. Before we parted at the train station, we had photos taken together.

It was an unexpected day of inspiration coupled with a wealth of history for this missionary kid born and raised in Osaka.  It was one of those experiences that are so monumental that you feel you don't deserve, but you are graciously given.

And gratitude dances in your heart.

Koko Kondo and me, daughters of ministers
Kobe, Japan