Material Things Have Little Value


Undoubtedly, you have witnessed tragedy either directly or indirectly. Tragedy comes in many forms in our lives, yet it need not define us. In the case of natural disasters, life has the capacity to show what is important – especially in the area of material possessions. Just ask Ryoko Koide. Ryoko is Assistant Director of Culinary Services with Wesley Homes in Des Moines. She has been with Wesley Homes a little over 13 years and loves the staff members and residents. Two years ago on March 11th, Ryoko’s family members and thousands of others were victims of the highly destructive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan. Ryoko’s initial response was shock. She wanted desperately to get in contact with her family in Japan. Imagine the unease of not being able to get in contact with family for three long days after a disaster. Ryoko finally got in contact with her nephew. For a short period of time, Ryoko’s family was able to discourage her from coming to Japan. At that time, Ryoko’s father lived next door to her sister. When the earthquake hit, Ryoko’s sister grabbed the dog and went next door to check on her father. News reports claimed that a tsunami was incoming, so she had to move fast. Ryoko’s sister was successful in getting her father out of his house. As the two were making their way up the stairs into her home, the tsunami struck. Both missed being swept away by mere inches. Her father and sister lived in the second floor of her house for three days. They subsisted on the only source of available water – the snow on the roof. On the third day, Ryoko’s sister was able to wave down an army boat from her second floor deck. Once the rescue boat arrived at dry land, Ryoko’s father and sister were carried over a mile to the evacuation center. They spent a month in the evacuation center. Thanks to the kindness of a stranger, the daughter of Ryoko’s nephew also narrowly missed losing her life to the tsunami. When Ryoko was told that her father had pneumonia, she headed to Ishinomaki, Japan. Ryoko experienced the aftermath of the destruction firsthand when she arrived. The effects of the tsunami became evident the closer she got to home. She discovered there was only one functioning hospital in the area. The overcrowded hospital had patients in the hallways, and patients were only allowed to shower once a week. The area surrounding the hospital looked like a war zone with all of the tents, soldiers and military vehicles. After the water receded, Ryoko and her sister went back to the house. They discovered the downstairs completely destroyed. Everything was lost. All the memories were gone. Ryoko also discovered that a childhood friend was, and still is, missing. The disaster taught Ryoko that material things have little value. “You learn to live simply,” Ryoko said. Ryoko said that food, shelter and water were reasons to celebrate. Toothpaste and toilet paper were a real bonus. Every day in Japan, Ryoko donned a baseball cap, shouldered a backpack, collected a large pot and walked from her nephew’s house to the community center. She’d wait for an hour to receive food, including hot soup, for the family. Ryoko realized that if you have something to eat and wear, you are okay. Many photos of the tsunami’s aftermath have been printed or broadcast, but Ryoko never took a single photo while she was in Japan. There wasn’t time. “It was death or survival,” she said. Ryoko witnessed people from all over the world lending assistance. She reflected, “It was very heart-warming.” She is confident that Japan will recover; however, she knows it will take time. Photo courtesy of Getty Images. by Steve Whitaker