I hesitated to write this post. I wanted to document in some way my emotion around the devastating tragedy in Japan but it’s important to me that it doesn’t come across as flippant or trite. I decided that perhaps now, as the story begins to slip a little from its primary place in the headlines, it might be the right time to share my thoughts.

The 9.0 richter earthquake, resulting tsunami and nuclear threat that hit Japan a week ago has most of the world watching, praying and waiting.

An event of this magnitude immediately seizes the world’s attention  and then, perhaps as a defense mechanism for our emotional survival, we let it go.

Remember Haiti. Remember Katrina. Remember Thailand.

I’m pretty sure, however, that this disaster is going to stay with me for a long, long time.

My prayers have been both broad – for all of the mothers and fathers and children going through their worst nightmare – and specific:

My cousin is there.

A key character in some of my earliest travel memories; A funny, joke-cracking teddy bear of a human being.

We’re lucky. We know he is “ok.”

And in fact, thanks to social media, we also know that there are many family and friends around the world who love him as much as we do.

But I recognize that not everyone is that lucky. There may be some of you reading this very post with loved ones you haven’t heard from.

Schoolmates. Colleagues. Friends.

There will also be many of you who know no one there; who, aside from basic human compassion, feel no real connection to this place.

I wanted to offer you a slice of what Japan is like.

Ish and I went years ago –  when kids were a distant thought, slumming it was a possibility and being in harm’s way seemed impossible –  and we loved it. One of my favourite memories. Walking the streets of Kyoto, map in hand and being approached by an old man with little English who spotted our map, asked where we were from and insisted we follow him.

He led us to his small shop and then  insisted we go down the stairs into it. My mind screamed, “Scam.” Figuring we could overpower him and run if need be, we went in.

He offered us tea. I suggested only Ish should drink it. (What? One of us had to be lucid.)

And then he sat with us and told us about his family, his  city and his country.

There was no attempt at a sale. No suggestion that we buy anything.  Just genuine interest in sharing with us, a hospitality I’d never known and eventually directions to the place we needed to go.

Before we left he pressed a small jade turtle into my hands and wished us a safe journey. His grace and kindness stayed with us for our entire trip.

And they remain the qualities I have always equated with that entire country.

And it’s why my heart hurts when I think of what they’re going through.

This is why we travel.

Japan train station

Riding the rails in Japan

It makes the world smaller. It makes events matter. It brings us closer.

But travel isn’t meant to be a one-way trip.

As important as the leaving is the coming home.

My heart breaks for the people of Japan, ex-pat and native, who are being forced to choose: Stay or go.

And for those who have no choice but to wait and see.