I listened to this podcast on NPR a couple of days ago. Here is a summary of the program by Chris Kavanagh:
This week’s episode of the popular NPR podcast This American Life featured a touching story (available to listen to here) about how some people in Japan who had lost loved ones in the 2011 tsunami were making a pilgrimage (of sorts) to a phone booth on a hill in the town of Otsuchi in order to ‘speak with’, or more accurately send messages to, their deceased relatives. The so-called ‘wind phone’ (kaze no denwa) is comprised of a simple disconnected rotary phone which is located in a white phone booth that overlooks the Pacific ocean. The phone is owned by a 70 year old gardener named Itaru Sasaki who had installed the phone in his garden prior to the disaster in order to give him a private space to help him cope with the loss of his cousin. However after the devastation of the tsunami, news about the phone gradually spread and eventually it became a well known site with various reports suggesting that three years after the disaster it already had experienced 10,000 visitors.
When listening to this segment it is impossible to ignore just how much power a simple disconnected phone line is providing to people who are suffering terribly and how it manages to help them process their grief precisely because of the unconventional, irrational scenario that it represents. Everyone visiting the phone-booth understands that it houses just an old rotary phone with a disconnected phone-line, but this knowledge does not prevent them from instilling their one way conversation with deep personal meanings. A poignant point that is raised repeatedly is just how mundane most of the conversations are, with people relating events from their daily life and, in stereotypical Japanese fashion, reassuring the dead that they are working hard and telling them not to worry.
Not that long ago, I painted an old telephone. An old French telephone. My reasons were not that different. I, too, want to stay in contact. I want to be connected. So I place this call, and know you are with me:
“Hey, it’s me. I just got back from a walk. It’s beautiful. Sunny. Still warm. I love it. The sun goes down earlier now, but I hang on to it like a tethered ball. I miss you. I think about you all the time. There’s a moment, when I’m putting on my make-up, and I can see you in the mirror. I’m losing my tan. I was so tan this summer. And last summer. I know, remember when I got so burned in Florida when I was like 12. Blisters, oh my! No more. The French sun agrees with me. Still wearing shorts. I will ’til the last minute. Almost Halloween. Remember that blizzard? I don’t miss the snow. I’m painting every day. I see you. I tell people about you. I sold five paintings this week. You’d love my husband. Mom is good. Did I say I miss you? I’m so thirsty. We need a bonnes vacances – that’s our happy hour. I love you. We’ll talk soon.”
Stay connected my friends. Make the call.