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signs of hope

March 19, 2011

Friday at 2:46 pm marked exactly one week since the earthquake struck Japan. It feels almost like an eternity has passed since then, but at the same time I’m somewhat shocked that it’s already been so long. It’s kind of unbelievable how much has happened and how many different emotions we have gone though since the ground started moving.

The country observed a formal moment of silence at exactly 2:46 pm in honor of the victims of the disaster. I was at work at the time, so I was not aware of this until after the fact, but I participated by default as I watched the clock on my computer and contemplated how unaware we were when it happened of how much that moment would impact our lives over the next 7 days.

Although Eric and I had worked through a lot of the uncertainty of our situation by the time we went to bed on Thursday night, I was still feeling somewhat drained when I woke up on Friday. I had been uncertain of what to do about my usual gym and work schedule after it became apparent that we weren’t going anywhere. It seemed strange to go back to our usual routines after such an emotionally charged day, but at the same time I really wanted some signs that things were normal to reassure me.

Reassuring signs: the reappearance of Eric’s beloved melonpan at the Lawson near work

Waking up was a little harder than usual, and as a result I was very rushed in getting out of the house on time. On top of that, the trains were still operating on a limited schedule, so there were a few moments when I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to the gym in time to participate in my Friday Group Power class. I reassured myself with the thought that the class would likely be less crowded than usual, so even if I was a little late I wouldn’t have too much problem finding a spot to set up in the studio.

Fortunately, I made it just in time to change and run down to the studio 3 minutes before start time, as usual.

I was really surprised upon entering the studio to see that there weren’t many fewer students than on a normal week. There were a few new faces, undoubtedly participating due to time off from work or displacement from cancelled evening classes, and a few familiar faces were notably missing, but I was really happy to pick out many of the regulars I have become accustomed to seeing every Friday.

I set up my step, barbell, and extra weights next to a guy I take both Group Power and Group Kick with and who often chats with me up in the weight room on non-class days, and waited. There was a strong feeling of solidarity and anticipation around the room. It had been a long tense week, and I think everyone was really looking forward to working out some of their built up energy and emotion in the context of the class, especially in light of the recent gym closure.

Reassuring signs: a fully stocked produce section at the Takadanobaba Daimaru Peacock

With all the events of the week, I had completely forgotten that my big shock of Friday prior to the quake was that morning’s announcement that our class would be changing instructors starting in April. It’s not uncommon for instructors to rotate among the gym staff every once in a while (my Group Kick instructor changed last April, for example), but we’d had the same instructor since the class started in July and I could not imagine the class being taught by anyone else. I was more affected at the news of his impending departure than I would have expected.

When I walked into class on Friday I was a bit surprised to see that two podiums had been set up in the front instead of one, and there was a female instructor there in addition to our usual male one. When class started, our instructor explained that she was there to practice teaching in preparation for her takeover next month, mentioned that she was really nervous, and said that she would be leading the first two tracks. For those tracks, he went through the movements on his podium in silence while the new instructor directed us.

I’m not entirely sure how to explain exactly what happened over the course of the rest of the class, but I’m fairly certain that it was one of the most cathartic and emotional experiences of my life. Being back there in the same studio just like any other week in spite of the enormity of what had happened, seeing the same faces I always see, and knowing that in the face of everything that was going on around us we were defiantly determined to get on with things and live our lives was very, very powerful.

It might sound corny, but the fact that it is a hard group exercise class really just helped to magnify the meaningfulness of it all. I had considered going easy on the weights when I first arrived, but somehow the atmosphere of determination and camaraderie got to me and made me really want to push myself, and I’m so glad that I did in the end. There is always something unifying about struggling through to the end of a track while knowing that everyone else there is pushing through the burn alongside you, but for this class it was so much more than that. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of strength, and togetherness, and the knowledge that it was all going to be okay. Japan is strong, we will work together to get through this.

The peak of the entire experience happened during the second track, the squat track, which in the current release is set to the song Mr. Vain, by Culture Beat. There is an older woman in class, not one of the every-week members but still a regular, who is in the habit of yelling “HEY!!” on the beat during particularly difficult sections. I’m fairly certain she picked this up from a different section of Group Power, as I saw the same thing happen in Group Kick the one time I went to an evening class. About half to two-thirds of the way through the track she started up as expected, but this time, for the first time, the rest of the class gradually picked up on it, until we were all yelling it out together in unison.

It felt like one of those moments from a movie.

Something about the way our instructor looked out at us for during those first two tracks was also extremely moving. It could be just my heightened oversensitivity talking here, but he seemed to be looking out at each of us in turn trying to take in everything he could about the moment, with a mixture of what seemed like pride, sadness, and overwhelming emotion on his face. I was sad for the reminder the would be leaving in just a few short weeks, but the impermanence of the whole experience seemed oddly fitting.

Reassuring signs: availability of milk at the supermarket again – limit 1 per person

I usually leave class 5 minutes early, before the stretch & cool down track since the end of class comes very close to the time I need to be out of the building on my membership plan (class is 10:05 – 10:50, I have to be showered and checked out by 11 am), but I made an exception this week, for the first time ever, and stayed until the very end. I was five minutes late leaving, but somehow that didn’t seem to matter.

Just for posterity’s sake, here is the complete song list from the current release:

GROUP POWER January 2011 release:

WARM-UP – I Am / Mary J. Blige
LEGS – Mr. Vain / Culture Beat
CHEST – Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It / Will Smith
BACK & LEGS – Maniac / Michael Sembello
MORE LEGS  – Two Is Better Than One / Boys Like Girls feat. Taylor Swift
CORE – Baby / Justin Bieber feat. Ludacris
STRETCH – I Don’t Believe You / Pink

In another oddly well-timed turn of events, the moon tonight passed closer to Earth than at any other point during the last 18 years and, unlike last year’s total eclipse, the weather cooperated and offered us a perfectly clear view. We went out to see it from our balcony at around 10 pm, and Eric snapped a few pictures fully zoomed in on his 55-250mm lens.

It was absolutely the most brilliant moon I have every seen in my life; so bright that it was almost hard to look directly at it. It truly seemed to bathe Tokyo in light, and while I know that it was visible from all around the world, I think that it took on a very special significance to all those here in Japan who happened to look up at the sky and see it tonight.

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