August 9, 2008

The woman died at about the same time I noticed the rain.

I sat at the table overlooking the creek, peacefully listening to the combined sounds of birdsong and my teeth crunching away at Cinnamon Puffins cereal. Music played softly on the kitchen radio. Sue worked on a crossword puzzle. I thought about checking my work email, and then thought better of it.

It began to rain on the creek, thousands of circles spreading from each drop, intersecting, and setting off secondary waves. The entire pattern was dependent on each drop. Take one away, add one, and the pattern changes. I suppose a mathematician could calculate where each ring would go, what consequences each intersection would have. But on the surface, literally and figuratively, it seemed totally random.

But the rain only fell on one side of the house, I noted with interest. Obviously, when it rains or snows, there is a line where either ends. If I believed in portents, I would have thought it portended something. A random event with delusions of omen.

Downstream about three-quarters of a mile as the heron flies, and at about that moment, a 12-passenger van filled with three vacationing families heading for Niagara Falls on the four-lane, bounced off a guardrail at the bridge over my creek, hit another guardrail, and crossed the median and slammed into a third.

One of the passengers, Eun Ju Lee, 36, of Oklahoma City a young mother of two, was thrown from the van and died as I crunched away at my Puffins upstream.

That same day, 63 years earlier, Sumiko Koide, 17, was carrying her baby sister in the alley between her parents’ home and a neighbor’s, when the sun came to Earth.

The Koide family lived about 20 minutes by car outside of downtown Hiroshima.

It was not, of course, a random act in any sense of the word, but to the tens of thousands killed and injured, it probably seemed so, on that tranquil summer morning. It was 8:15 a.m., local time. I can easily imagine people sitting at breakfast, looking out their windows.

Sumiko told me she remembers a silent flash, then chaos.

“I saw so many dead people. So many walking with the skin dropping off of their faces and hands, so many with their faces terribly bloated,” she said.

A few days later, the sun came to Earth over Nagasaki.

Another raindrop, another circle spreading, hitting other circles. Thousands upon thousands of random circles removed, altering the paths of those remaining. Predictable? Maybe. But it still feels random. I asked Sumiko if she thought dropping the two bombs helped to shorten the war, or in the long run, saved lives.

“I don’t know. I guess there would have been more people die in an invasion. But not all in one place,” she said. “It is hard to say that it should have been bombed.”

She was quiet for a bit, then added: “We would not have given up, I think, if not for the bombing,” adding that each home bamboo spears beside the front door in the event of an American invasion. Everyone, children included, had strict instructions from the government what to do if and when the Americans came.

“We were each to kill one and then ourselves. We were not to surrender,” she said.

A few months before his death, I interviewed physicist and biologist Ray Crist about the Manhattan Project, which led to the creation of the two bombs. Crist was 105, and had only recently retired from teaching.

“…There was really no morality (about it). There was a real chance of the Germans getting it and we knew they were working on it. It was a question of war. It had gone beyond morality. Everybody was terrified of the Germans finding this first. It was a matter of life and death,” he said.

After the war, Crist was one of a group of scientists invited to travel to the Far East and witness a demonstration of an atomic bomb blast. He declined.

“I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to get a personal sense of what the bomb would do,” he said.

Indeed. Who would?

On the way home from work last night, I stopped briefly at the scene of the accident. As it happened, I was listening to some somber classical music on the car stereo. Purely random, as I had selected the music for reasons that had nothing to do with the crash. But it seemed to fit.

The van and other wreckage were gone, of course. But the story was written clearly in the bent guardrails, the deep grooves in the median, the spray-painting to mark for the investigators where the van came to rest. I thought about three families, surely good friends, perhaps talking and laughing, sleeping, reading, and then moments of chaos, followed by darkness, pain and panic.

That night I watched the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. I watched the faces of the Japanese team as they marched in the stadium, standing tall and strong and waving at the nearly 100,000 people in the stands. Nearly three-quarters of a century ago their grandfathers had swarmed through China, murdering and raping in the name of their emperor.

I wondered who else might be among the Japanese athletes if the two A-bombs had not been dropped, what additional grandfathers might be watching proudly from the stands, or on a TV back home. I wondered if, in those powerful physiques might lurk some genetic fluke, arising from radiation, that might someday lead to some unknown tweak in the human genome, whether for good or ill.

I blinked and looked back to something I had been reading. Just too random to think about, too complex. No easy answers here.

The creek had been low for the past couple of weeks, but the millions of random drops have brought it back up by a couple of feet. The carp are poking around over bottom that had for awhile been dry ground, looking for manna. Heron stand, newly attentive. None ponders the randomness of their fortune. I, however, do, but without much result.
© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,
Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: