True north is a geographic line pointing toward the North Pole. Its direction is unchanging and is invaluable to sailors for charting their course. It is marked in the sky by the location of certain constellations: reliable, trustworthy.
The people in Japan (visitor, resident and citizens) have demonstrated the "true north" of their moral character following the worst earthquake in their history followed by a mammoth tsunami. As though that destruction of lives, livelihoods, and homes was not sufficient, a nuclear accident followed.
Through all that and, thusfar, two weeks of almost continuous aftershocks (a bland reference to additional earthquakes), the people in Japan (visitors, residents, and citizens) have conducted themselves with humanity, calm, and dignity. Evacuated to crowded, unheated shelters with inadequate food, water, and medical resources; they continued resolutely in making the best of the available resources: proud island people to the core. The morning after their first night in unheated shelters (in the midst of winter), videos show the evacuees rolling up their bedding without complaint. The shelters were just as immaculate after a night of hundreds sleeping head to toe as they had been when the people entered the night before. There was no wailing or screaming. Instead, they dutifully picked up after themselves, comforted others and offered whatever assistance they could.
Despite the tension of sleeping through a night (and subsequent days) of aftershocks (a nice name for additional earthquakes), of accepting the fact they might well never again see loved ones, these people remained calm, collected and thoughtful of others.No looting, no pillaging, no assaults on the weak, no stealing or damaging of property.
Even the Japanese government and press have demonstrated a true north character. The government officials of Japan resisted the opportunity to play the blame game. Japanese journalists reported the facts calmly to the extent they had information. No one pushed a panic buttom.
Here in the U.S., young people kicked in windows of cars they did not own to demonstrate their ire at the prospect of increased university tuition costs. Educators prowled through publicly owned buildings attempting to disrupt legislative processes, leaving behind millions of dollars of damaged marble surfaces and providing the worst possible example for their students. Elected officials, whose political party had lost a recent election, fled to neighboring states like sulking children, not only abdicating their responsibility to their constituents but attempting to disrupt the democratic processes of governance.
All this demonstrated more than they realized the warp and weft of their moral fiber.
It was not always thus in America. In 1900 during the great Galveston hurricane, in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Camille in 1969, and heroic rescues from the Twin Towers in 2001 were moments of triumph in America. During each of those calamities, we in America showed a different moral fiber than our more recent history suggests.
I pray we will recapture it.
Meanwhile, half a world away, people whose lives have been altered beyond calculation went quietly, calmly and with dignity about the business of salvaging what they could, enduring what they must, bearing each other's burdens. It was ever thus with island people.