Eleven is the unluckiest number


During two of the greatest disasters in my lifetime, I was away from home. The first was 9/11. As those two airplanes were making their horrific smack into the World Trade Center, I was in the air and on my way back to Tokyo from Miami. I thought that I had already experienced a horrible ordeal when an obnoxiously relentless guy tried to get me to sleep with him just a few days before. That silly story doesn't compare to the multitude of screams choking in the fire and rubble. I remember coming home and seeing everyone the Shock on everyone's faces. I had no idea what was going on until I could get to television and saw the images. They were so surreal it looked like a movie. I kept thinking about what might have happened if I had taken a later flight or if I had somehow been rerouted in the wrong direction. I could have been stuck in the US for weeks, or I could have been in one of those planes staring out the window and watching concrete and steel get closer and more prominent as I careen to my end. I don't suppose there's any more horrific death than dying in a plane crash or being crushed beneath a crumbling building. Two thousand nine hundred ninety-six souls were sent back to wherever we come from before being born. The aftermath, of course, was far worse. The wars that followed this ghoulish incident claimed the lives of half a million more. Those are the official numbers though the truth might be far worse.


The second disaster happened on 3/11. I was in Nagoya attending an international conference on environmental awareness. I was hired to photograph the event. People had come from many parts of the world. They were there to talk about something called the Satoyama initiative. From what I could understand, it was a way to do agriculture with minimal impact on the environment. Everyone agreed that the environment was in danger and that the earth was fighting back. During one of the presentations, the room began to shake. When an earthquake happens, it's typically over within a few seconds or even a minute. This one felt different. It went on and on and seemed like it would never stop. The delegates from African countries began to panic. None of them had experienced an earthquake before. I heard someone scream, "We're going to die!" The delegates from Asian countries were quite used to feeling the ground shake beneath their feet. We all sat watchfully but otherwise not afraid. A woman from Thailand, who was in the middle of giving her speech, jokingly said to the African delegate, "Can you die after I finish my presentation?"


I was on a train the next day, heading back to Tokyo. When I arrived, I saw that everything had changed. It was as if we had entered some post-apocalyptic nightmare. The usually crowded streets of the city were empty. The news was filled with more images of death and destruction. The earthquake had taken a few unfortunate people, but it was nothing compared to the following tsunami that rolled in over the shore and swallowed up coastal towns. I remember the horror of seeing lines of cars on the road. People were trying to escape, but they were all escaping at the same time. No one could go anywhere. All they could do was be eaten by the sea and drown.

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