White pieces of paper...

(A journal entry by 26-year-old pianist Ellie Honea, who works with us in Tokyo and traveled with us to shelters in Kumamoto.)

White pieces of paper...

I pick them off my shirt, which no longer smells of smoke from outdoor grills or looks muddy from evacuation centers on a rainy morning. Clean, new, fresh...and covered in tiny bits of clean white paper. Not a smudge of ink left. Not a trace of the hastily written note and phone number to remind me of those 10 digits. The bits of paper are like fallen cherry blossoms, a reminder of our fleeting moment of friendship and connection.

I met Narita-san at the top of the stairs as if waiting for me. She gave a grateful sigh when she saw what I was carrying. I had just walked down the hallway of an elementary school-turned-evacuation-center, arms loaded with thin insulated silver mats. The mats are not much, but certainly more comfortable then the thin cardboard sheets or single tarps I see being used as beds in the classrooms around me.

Narita-san quickly guided me through a maze of staircases and hallways to areas of greatest need, sharing her story as we went. Her house was okay, she told me, so she's not staying at the shelter but volunteers as able. Her neighbor's house was marked with a bright red "Don't enter! Condemned!" sign, and she wears a hard hat when she leaves the house, afraid aftershocks will send chunks of debris raining down on her. Her family was also fine, she told me. Her daughter lives in Tokyo, and her grandson just started university. Out of the worry and hurry comes a smile, unique to proud grandparents everywhere.

We stop to chat with two young girls, sitting on a table with legs swinging. I hope this time will stick in their memories as a fun camp-out, where school was cancelled and instead had sleepovers with friends for weeks on end. Narita-san and the girls told me about the school's music teacher, who often serenades students from the piano during lunch time. "Music is wonderful, isn't it?" Actually, I told them, it so happens that our team has three musicians and our van is packed with a violin, keyboard, and portable pipe organ! Maybe we also could play a concert during lunch time?

Narita-san talked with the shelter leader, and an hour later the gym became a concert hall, with pop-tents serving as prime box seats. I silently prayed over the room as rhythms and melodies of Bach and Vivaldi filled cracks of stress on worried faces and pushed out unspoken fears. After the concert, I again found Narita-san, who seemed to share my feeling that we were instantly old friends. We exchanged phone numbers, and I told her to call me if she ever came to Tokyo.

I wonder if she will. I wonder if my phone number is still there in her folder. Even if our relationship is over like this year's cherry blossom viewing, maybe our encounter made as much an impact on her as it had on me. Maybe the encounter will, like cherry blossoms, be all the more precious for its brevity. Maybe she will think back and remember those Christians who floated in with love flowing from black and white keys and vibrating violin strings...