Day 50 Saturday April 30, 2005
Hillside NJ to Fort Lee NJ
As we set out today we are on the edge of finishing, New York is looming in the distance and the traffic
and urban sprawl is closing in. The first half of the day is a nightmare of trucks and industrial chaos and
we have to walk slowly and carefully. Today is also an important day as we are walking to Leonia and
then we have a conference with Mayor Akiba (the Mayor of Hiroshima) and many ‘Hibakusha’
(Hiroshima survivors) at the Fort Lee Community Center.
We are walking through New Jersey …the day was relatively short but tiring, the compounding of lack of sleep and physical exhaustion is finally catching up with everyone. The constant trucks and rain is a challenge to our resolve, but as usual we push on with vigor, as our goal is in sight. Like all cities, New York has its hidden outpost, that provides infrastructure and goods to feed the insatiable giant. They call it industrial areas but they are more like the toilet of the big city, polluted and dirty with trash everywhere. These are places that no tourists visit, unless they are lost, and the environment is sacrificed to prop up a decaying system. It is the same every where in the world- what foolish beings we are, if it is out of sight it is out of mind. But what we don’t see or refuse to see is often the very thing that kills us.
We walk to our destination, the United Methodist church in Leonia and we make it in good time. Our hosts are really great and have bent over backwards to accommodate all of our needs. It never ceases to amaze me at the amount of charity, respect, friendship and genuine love that these great people show us. We cannot do it without their support, and there aren’t the words to express our gratitude and love to them all.
That evening our numbers swelled as many new walkers arrived for the final leg into New York, and many Japanese people, Hibakusha, Musicians, Monks and the Mayor of Hiroshima, arrived for the evening event. For us to be in the presence of so many amazing survivors was a humbling experience, and one I will never forget. Many people showed up for the talk that night and we heard stories from the traumatic past and plans for the future.
Two Hibakusha from Hiroshima spoke of their experience on that fateful day when the first Atomic Bomb to be used as an act of war was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, August 6th 1945. It is sixty years this year since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but from the expressions on their faces and the tone of their voices, the event is relived every time they tell it, it is raw and painful for them to speak. They tell of the horrors of that day and the terror that haunts them still, it is a description of hell, people disfigured and burnt, like walking dead all crying for water. Bodies unrecognizable from the blast piled on top of each other, and the city they knew so well is totally gone, every time they close their eyes that is the scene they relive. It is a terrible thing and hard to imagine, but when you sit face to face with these incredible people and hear their stories you can at least see the trauma and pain. My heart goes out to Yasuo Endo and Sumiko Nakamura for their courage to retell this hell so that no one will ever have to go through what they went through. We are very privileged to have them visit and it bought tears to my eyes when they left.
Mayor Akiba from Hiroshima also spoke that night; he is the head of the Mayors For Peace campaign and one of the greatest advocates for peace and fighters for the rights of Hibakusha. He outlined the Mayors For Peace Campaign and how they are working for the complete disarmament of Nuclear Weapons by the year 2020. There are over 1000 Mayors For Peace around the world and the number is growing everyday. Throughout our journey we were urging Mayors to sign on to the program and it was our great pleasure to hand Mayor Akiba the documents from the Mayor of Fredrick who signed on during our visit. Mayor Akiba was a passionate and articulate speaker and an inspirational man to hear, he talked a lot about a Mayor’s primary responsibility. The first job of a mayor is to ensure the safety of their people, and so whilst the threat of nuclear weapons is around we must do something to stop them. I have never heard a politician speak from the heart like that and he is some one we all could connect with. A man of passion and wisdom and heart is a rare thing to find in a position of power, especially one in that position who does good deeds. It was an honor and privilege to be with him and to have him thank us for walking and working for peace.
Ralph Hutchinson from OREPA spoke about the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge Tennessee, where the walk began. It seemed fitting that the very place the bomb that devastated Hiroshima was built was the starting point for our pilgrimage. It is also devastating to hear that this very place that created such evil is still in the business of producing nuclear weapons. As Ralph explained the Y-12 plant is currently upgrading the American Nuclear arsenal to last for a further 100-120 years. This is not upholding the NPT but ignoring and breaching it.
Throughout the night we heard music from a group of Japanese Musicians and the Stop The Bombs Peace Choir. It was a welcome relief from the horrific stories we where hearing and sung of our combined spirit of peace and love. During the Choir performance Mrs. Nakmura (Hiroshima Hibakusha) was visibly moved and began to cry. It was a touching moment for me as I sang to watch this courageous woman cry, as we touched each others hearts in love and friendship.
The night was a great experience and it gave us renewed spirit for the next days walk into New York.