Taylor Lane Anderson, a fellow Virginian, became last Monday the first known American to have died in Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. The twenty-four-year-old had spent the last two and a half years fulfilling what had become her dream—to teach English in Japan.
The story in the newspaper was accompanied by a photo of the street on which she was last seen. It was that eerie time just after the earthquake and before the wave hit. Taylor was riding her bicycle home from an elementary school in the city of Ishinoma-ki.
Use your imagination, and you will see houses and storefronts and perhaps children playing on the street corners. You will see that strange combination of resistance and joy that defines human life everywhere, that sort that makes you feel melancholy but happy to be alive.
That’s not the picture the photograph displays, however. All you see is death and destruction.
Though I do my best not to, all I can think of is her last thoughts as that wall of water came rushing toward her. I like to think it was fast. I like to think it was over before she knew it was upon her and that she didn’t suffer.
Derek Kannemeyer is a French and English teacher at St. Catherine’s, the school which Taylor once attended. In the article, he described his former student’s philosophy of life this way:
“You’ve got to go out in the world and live.”
This is the first time I’ve written about the events in Japan. I’ve wanted to ever since it happened, but I just…couldn’t. There are a great many things in this world meant to be written about by better writers than I, and what happened in Japan is one of those things. It raises questions in me about the things I believe and why I believe them. I’ve done my fair share of questioning God and shaking my fist at Him.
You should know better, I tell Him. Why didn’t You do something?
People smarter than me have been asking that question for a very, very long time. I suppose they always will.
Me, I have no answers. There is a lot in Christianity that must be accepted on faith. It is a rock you can break yourself against, that can tear you to pieces, unless you realize there are answers only God can know and you never will.
I still struggle with that.
But today I am thinking of Taylor Lane Anderson, whose life was cut short by shaking earth and raging ocean, but who still chased and managed to grab hold of her dreams. Her death was a sad tragedy, but knowing she died doing what she loved somehow takes a bit of the sting away. In the end, death that comes out of fulfilling our purpose is something to which we should all aspire.
I still question God. I doubt neither His existence nor His love, but I do His ways. They are higher than my ways, Isaiah said, as His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. I believe that. But believing that also brings a mixture of calm and fear, and I don’t believe I’m the only one to feel such things.
It is a scary time to be alive. There just seems to be so much going on—so much bad. There are days when I feel as though a black cloud hangs over this world, rumbling and swirling and ready to dump catastrophe upon us all. It’s easy to wake up in the morning and wonder, “What’s next?”
I’m sure I’ll wonder what’s next again, sure I’ll look up hoping to see the light and instead see that black, swirling cloud. When I do, I’m going to remember Taylor Lane Anderson. I’m going to remember the way she lived her life.
Because no matter what happens, no matter what fear entangles us, we’ve got to go out in the world and live.
Not only survive. Not just get by.