A common space for harmonic peacemakers
On this day in 1945, at 8:16 a.m. Japanese time, American B-29 bomber the Enola Gay dropped the world's first atom bomb over the city of Hiroshima...
Lanterns of Memory
Featuring Hiroshima survivor, Kae Goh Ogura
With text by Martin Luther King Jr.
Directed and photographed by Velcrow Ripper
Filmed in Hiroshima, Aug. 6, 2001
Here's a short film I did called "Lanterns of Memory" about this day, August 6, sixty-four years ago, when we dropped the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
This film became part of my feature documentary about my journey to the ground zero's of the world, Scared Sacred.
Today is the 64th anniversary of the day we dropped the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. On August 6th, 2000, I visited Hiroshima, and shot this short film, Lanterns of Memory, which later became part of the Genie winning feature doc, Scared Sacred, a search for stories of transformation in the face of crisis.
On the eve of the millennium I set out on a long journey to the Ground Zero's of the world, places like Auschwitz, Bhopal, Hiroshima, Wounded Knee, Afghanistan, and New York City, a Ground Zero newly created as I was nearing the end of my travels.
One of the most poignant of the Ground Zero’s I visited was Hiroshima, the place where the term was first used. The dropping of the atomic bomb brought in a new experience in human history. For the first time, the future of the entire planet was at risk. Until that point, despite wars, and plagues, famine and natural disasters, there was always as sense that eventually things would return to ‘normal.’ But from that horrible day forward, an underlying sense of unease entered the human pysche. This undercurrent of fear has only intensified in recent years, with the equally powerful understanding that we could be destroying the life support systems of the planet through our wanton greed and over consumption.
In the face of these overwhelming realities, there is a deep desire to numb ourselves, to go into hiding, to bury our head in the sand. Or we can take the opposite approach, allowing these frightening realities to wake us up and shake us up. Painful as this may be, it also brings with it a deep relief, for try as we might, we can never truly hide from the shadow. Instead, it bubbles away inside us, insidously, wreaking much more harm than when it is brought out into the light.
Scared Sacred, for me, was a journey of confrontation. Contrary to what you might imagine, by the end of five years of travelling to the darkest places of human history, I found myself left with a vast sense of possibility, and hope. I discovered in these places some of the most remarkable invididuals I have ever met.
HIROSHIMA ~ August, 2000
The sun will soon be rising, and I'm late. I hurry down the silent Hiroshima streets, past an ancient graveyard, stupas leaning, into the Peace Park, a forested sanctuary bisected by the slow flowing waters of the Ota-gawa river. The burnt out skeleton of the ‘A-bomb Dome’ dominates the landscape, supported by shattered brick walls, etched darkly against the brightening sky. The ruins are maintained as a reminder of the damage wrought by the bomb, which exploded directly above. Most of the surrounding buildings, trees, and people were destroyed in a flash. Those closest to the hypocenter were instantly vaporized, turned to shadows on stone. This sudden death was a gift, when compared to the long, slow deaths suffered by those who survived.
I pause at a water fountain, built in memory of the thirst the survivors felt, a cruel thirst that killed when quenched. In a stone plaque set into the earth I discover a Haiku written by the Hiroshima survivor, Tamka Hari:
Engraved in stone long ago,
Lost in the shifting sand,
In the midst of a crumbling world,
The vision of one flower.
My journey’s quest-the search for that single flower, peeking from the ashes. I stand in contemplation for a good ten breathes. Breathing in, breathing out.
~ ~ ~
Clouds of smoke and flame rise from metal braziers laden with flowers and burning incense. The morning sun pours through the trees, drenching the sad, reflective faces with a soft golden light. Many of them are Hibakusha, the survivors. They arrive early, before the crowds grow too thick, memories flooding back as they stand in silent prayer. Two old women and an old man sit silently on the ground, each holding a framed photo of a loved one on their laps, lost to the bomb.
The mourners come and go, Buddhist rosaries dangling from clasped hands, the crowd swelling as the sun rises. There are children to whom the event is only a story passed on by their grandparents. There are visitors from far away, trying to comprehend the vastness of what happened here. The number of victims from the bomb the Americans called 'Little Boy' was over two hundred thousand. Human beings. Engraved on the stone coffin are the words, "Let all the souls here rest in peace. For we shall not repeat the evil."
Rising from the long, still pond in front of the monument is a flame that is not eternal. It is to be extinguished the day nuclear weapons are abolished.
~ ~ ~
The sound of drumming and chanting rising from the quiet murmurs of the mourners. A group of orange robed monks and nuns approach the altar in formation, heads shaved, each holding a flower, beating their flat hand drums with wooden sticks. One by one the monks and nuns approach the altar and lay their flowers down, bowing deeply. A radiant old nun in her nineties swirls her hands over the smoke, drawing it into her heart. Breathe in suffering.
8.10 a.m. The crowd has grown to some 40,000 people. A deep bell tones. A child slowly shuts her eyes. An old woman lowers her parasol. The pedestrians in the crowded malls stand still. The boats in the harbour turn off their engines and drift. On the streets the traffic has stopped. The city is silent, save for the cicadas, which take the space, building intensely. In the Peace Museum at the end of the park, near the melted face of a stone Buddha, the twisted hands of a pocket watch from Ground Zero eternally mark the exact moment of the blast: 8.13 a.m. The bell tolls again. Breathe out compassion.
~ ~ ~
"A bright light filled the plane," wrote Colonel Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb. "We turned back to look at Hiroshima. The city was hidden by that awful cloud...boiling up, mushrooming." Silence. For a moment. Then everyone began shouting. "Look at that! Look at that! Look at that!" cried the co-pilot, Robert Lewis, hammering on Tibbet's shoulder. Lewis said he could taste atomic fission. It tasted like lead. Then he turned away to write in his journal. "My God," he wondered, "What have we done?"
~ ~ ~
Humans have a hard time admitting we’re going to die. We used to be able to find a measure of comfort, a sense of immortality, in the marks we might leave in the world, through our works, or our children. At 8:13 a.m. on August 6 in 1945, humanity lost this illusion of immortality.
~ ~ ~
“Look at any person you encounter (stranger or friend). Let the realization arise in you that this person lives on an endangered planet. He or she may die in a nuclear war; or from the poisons spreading through our world. Observe that face, unique, vulnerable...Those eyes still can see; they are not empty sockets...the skin is still intact...Become aware of your desire that this person be spared such suffering and horror, feel the strength of that desire...keep breathing...Also let the possibility arise in your consciousness that this may be the person you happen to be with when you die...that face the last you see...that hand the last you touch...it might reach out to help you then, to comfort, to give water...Open to the feelings for this person that surface in you with the awareness of this possibility... Open to the levels of caring and connection it reveals in you.” - Joanna Macy.
~ ~ ~
a boy chases a dragonfly
a girl plays in the street alone
a woman dressed in her going to get rice ration clothes
~ ~ ~
Kae Goh Ogura was just a little girl playing in the streets of Hiroshima, when she heard an ominous sound coming from the sky. She looked up to see a tiny airplane, an American B-29. She watched as a small black spot dropped out of the airplane. All of a sudden, the black spot exploded in the air.
“I saw, almost felt, a magnesium bluish flash. I couldn’t see anything because all of a sudden it became dark. Hiroshima City was under the mushroom cloud. Trees were burning. The wind was so strong, even to breathe was difficult. I could hear my younger brother shouting, crying, and soon after he appeared from the dark part. His head was bleeding and he had burns on his hand and half of his face and his clothes were torn. There was no voice, just quiet. People were so much astonished. They couldn’t find a word to say. Then they tried to find out where to hide. But there was no place to hide.
“I was eight years old. I wanted to see the whole city, and behind my house there was a shrine on the hill with stone steps. On each step, people were dying. I was so scared. Those dying people squeezed my leg, caught my ankle. Everybody was shouting, ‘Help, help,’ and I was so scared. People were asking, ‘Water, give me water.’ I wanted to give those dying people some water, but as soon as they drank water, they died. In front of me.”
For a decade after the blast, the Hibakusha were denied the right to tell their story, shamed into silence. It was a second act of violence. Kae Goh Ogura was also told to be quiet.
“You shouldn’t complain. ‘Many people had the same experience as you. You are not special,' they said. Then we tried to forget, not to tell our story. Ten years later, when we had the Bikini atoll nuclear test, we were so much surprised. We became so desperate. Japan was the end of nuclear war, yet they're still producing nuclear weapons! Do they know what dreadful days we had? We need to tell our story.”
For survivors, of any tragedy, it is a terrible re-victimization for their pain to be forgotten. Or worse, denied. This willful silencing becomes yet another source of suffering. While I was in Colombia shooting the documentary, ‘In the Company of Fear,’ I found that silencing was used as a form of psychological warfare. When the death squads carry out a massacre, the villagers are prevented from identifying the bodies of their own loved ones, or talking about what has happened, for fear of meeting the same fate. This creates what is called a ‘Neblina,’ a foggy quality, a shadow world of half-whispers and confused fear.
It’s all too easy to fall into a form of this silencing ourselves; it can emerge in the way we relate to the people we might meet who have experiences of trauma, such as rape, domestic abuse, cancer or AIDs. We even do it to ourselves, to avoid confronting our own pain. Leah Georgia said, “As a person living with terminal cancer, living with dying everyday since October14 when my life was set on fire with my prognosis, I do not want to feel that you or anyone working with me is protecting themselves from me. My life, my experiences, my dying, are not something you need protecting from. I do, however, need protection from lack of Presence and Listening. You see I am running out of earthly time and what I need, deserve and expect from each and every one of you is the quality of Presence and Listening. . . I ask you to pay attention.”
People need to tell their stories. They need to be heard. It’s a critical phase of the healing process. For the Hibakusha, like so many survivors I have met, their greatest hope is that what has happened to them, not happen to anyone else. They told me, "We know the pain we have been through, and we would not even want our enemies to suffer that way." The act of speaking out is a way to transform tragedy, into a force of change. Today, Kae Goh Ogura travels constantly, telling her story around the world. She has made an inspiring leap, allowing the pain she has experienced to open her heart.
“We need to know each other. I'm one of the A-bomb nuke survivors. I experienced this, so I can understand other people's sorrow and agony. We need to help each other, and to re-make the world, use all our power, and energy. This is the goal: we should have solidarity, who have suffered such sorrow.”
~ ~ ~
As night falls a crowd gathers on the banks of the Ota-gawa river, building paper lanterns, dipping paint brushes into black ink, inscribing names of the dead, calls for peace, words of remembrance on the thin crepe paper. Hiroshima no longer tries to forget. It is now called the ‘city of peace,’ and has found dignity and meaning by telling and retelling it’s story, which is also our story, to the millions of people that visit each year.
The first stars appear and the lanterns of memory are released onto the dark river. They drift towards the sea on a surface of glass, glowing yellow, red, green, and white, painted with Japanese inscriptions, memorials to a person, a family, a community. A floating constellation of lost souls.
I open myself to their suffering, allowing a sense of compassion and concern to develop spontaneously. Then I imagine drawing in their suffering, in the form of a dark cloud, drawing it into my heart, where it dissolves into openess. As I breathe out, I send them compassion, riding on a current of fresh, cool white light. Breathe in suffering. Breathe out compassion.
This is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Tonglen - receiving and giving meditation. Tong means receiving, and Len means giving. In this practice, the direct understanding of Inter-Being emerges through the power of allowing suffering to open ones heart and awaken compassion. It is a practice that can be applied to any situation, anywhere. It's kind of like ‘air-conditioning suffering.’ Instead of contracting, tightening around suffering, you create space around it.
One version of the practice instructs you to choose a person you already care for, a person you feel neutral about, and someone to whom you feel aversion. Practice taking in and transforming their suffering, extending to them all of your happiness, clarity, understanding, forgiveness and love. During the day, you can continue this practice. As you move through life, imagine you are saying, “I take from you suffering, and I give to you light.”
Tonglen is not magic. It is not a shamanic or faith healing technique. You are not literally drawing the persons suffering out of them. You are training your heart, and your mind. The result is the same, however: you are healing the world of suffering, by becoming a compassionate, enlightened being.
I sit quietly breathing in suffering, feeling it dissolve into openness, sending out compassion. This is the heart of my journey: the art of transforming the scared, into the sacred. I bow my forehead.
“I dedicate the merit of this practice to all beings, who are as limitless as space. May all beings be happy.”
Indian Hindu & Muslim kids remembering Hiroshima August 6th 2008
~Velcrow Ripper, August 2000, Hiroshima