Friday, February 24, 2012

Humanity at its Best

There is only one thing that unifies us, the biped homo sapiens. It is our humanity. One that is called into question at every juncture no matter who we are, what color our skin is or what wealth we possess. It is that one constant which defines us as a moral and ethical entity, no matter the circumstance. Through out human history unspeakable violence as well as immeasurable kindness has defined who we are as a species. This unpredictable nature of humanity and the full range of its expression, led to the evolution of a universal moral code that has been enshrined in most religious texts as laws to live by. Do good, love thy neighbor, help the helpless so on and so forth. Those ideas were later transferred for the times into constitutions and other documents to keep humanity in check. But that has not eliminated the unpredictability of human behavior. We still see mindless killing, as we see in Syria, we still see narrow mindedness, bigotry and veiled racism as we see in the unending Republican debates here in the United States, and we see the total disregard for all things beautiful, when Rhino horns are hacked off in South Africa and the animals left to die a painful death. All to feed a demented insatiable Chinese demand for exotic absurdities.

While there is no dearth of examples to reveal humanity's deviant behavior, the moments when we exhibit generosity is when we deliver the message of hope, the cornerstone of our very survival. I recently came across one such story, that exemplifies the idea of human selflessness in the darkest of hours. It is the story of Naoto Matsumara.

When the Tsunami hit Japan last year and left the whole world at a loss for words, the disaster at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant that followed added only salt to injury. Close to 21,000 people perished as a result of the Tsunami and the ensuing radiation leak from the power plant made life even more miserable for many. Everyone in a 20 kilometer radius of the power plant was asked to immediately evacuate. One such town that was asked to empty out was Tomioko, which was about 10km from the plant with a population of 16,000. Everyone heeded the call, but for 53 year old rice farmer Naoto Matsumara. He decided to stay home and care for his frail and sick mother, who was too weak to move. One month later his brothers arrived in Hazmat suits and tried to persuade him to leave. When he refused they decided to take his sick mother with them.

Matsumara decided to stay because his conscience would not allow him to leave the animals of his village behind. Especially the dogs. Many of the evacuees left their pets and other animals still chained and enclosed. Matsumara took it upon himself to take care of them, and so he brought them home. Rabits, Chickens, Cows, Dogs, Cats, Ducks, Boars and even an Ostrich were rescued and now they all live in his garden forming the only social contact he has with the living world. He is the only human left in his village. He lights his house using generators and drinks water from the local well and lives a hermits life.

When he got himself examined at the local university outside the exclusion zone he was told he was the most contaminated person in Japan. They told him that he would not experience any immediate symptoms as a result of the radiation exposure, but within the next thirty years he is certain to develop cancer. His relatives would not welcome him and literally shut the door in his face from fear of contamination.

Last November he ran out of money. So he began to blog about his experiences. People began to send him food, money and other supplies to take care of his animal family.

The police have tried many times to get him to leave but he has been steadfast and sworn to his animals. He told them that if they could guarantee the safety of his animals then he would gladly leave. So the authorities relinquished and decided to give him a special pass so he can freely go in and out of the exclusion zone and buy supplies for himself and his animals.

So Naoto Matsumara wanders alone in his ghost town watching the houses decay as nature lays claim to the concrete structures. His 16,000 neighbors are no where to be found. He says he has lost his ability to smile but yet lives on, a solitary man surrounded by those who listen but cannot speak his language.

While circumstances may have put this man in this predicament, there is something to be said about his selfless humanity. Everyone faces challenges in life when disaster strikes, but how we make the best of it is what makes us strong and human in the quintessential sense. We see this level of selflessness quite often. The people who exhibit it are the true heroes. Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik, the two journalists who died in Syria trying to bring the truth to the world, embodied a similar kind of compassion for their cause. Our whole history is peppered with people who have shown magnanimity in small and big ways. It is seldom that they are remembered as they should be. It is what it is.