Sometimes you just can’t escape reality.
The plight of Kenji Goto has been plagueing me all week, though I naïvely thought for a while that progress was being made with ISIS in the potential hostage exchange in Jordan. I also even discussed the situation with some of the students in my classes, and asked them their viewpoints on whether there was any chance that Mr Goto might get out of his horrific predicament alive. Some, trying to keep a more optimistic way of thinking thought he might, while others said that they thought that there was no chance .
Although each time a prisoner of ISIS is beheaded live on camera I feel the same sensations of revulsion, despair and sorrow (even if I could never watch such a video, the mere suggestion of the fate these poor people succumb to is enough to horrify you to your core), somehow with Kenji Goto the reaction to his cruel death feels much more profound. In the other cases, the victims were people I had never heard of, making their slaughter slightly more distanced. Here in Japan, though, all week in the newspapers there have been articles about his life as a journalist and humanitarian, about his family here in Tokyo, and a picture has slowly built of the kind of man he was and his bravery (and ultimately, foolishness perhaps) in going into ISIS controlled areas in the hope of rescuing Haruna Yukawa, the troubled and disturbed Japanese man who was executed first.
The consequence of all this media coverage has been a much deeper emotional investment in the outcome of the crisis, an almost unbearable tension and agony of uncertainty. It has been harder to resist. To push out of your mind. With words, we build a connection, and the man was becoming very real to me.
When a potential prisoner swap deal was mooted the other day involving the female suicide bomber in Jordan, I felt a slight lessening of the worry and thought that Goto might actually be released. It seemed that clandestine negotiations were under way between governments and intermediaries, and that he might actually get out of there alive, as people demonstrated on the streets here, and his mother and wife appeared on TV pleading for mercy (but those people, you see, have none, explicitly contravening the central tenets of their own religion); deadline times were exceeded, and the whole thing entered the realm of the slightly more bearable unknowable.
I suppose I thus decided, after a six day week of teaching, to just try and forget about it all Saturday night, just enjoy myself, as there is absolutely nothing I could do about it anyway and I am a born hedonist, dreamer, and aesthetically centred person to begin with who believes that life is to be enjoyed, rather than suffered, whenever possible. I purposefully didn’t look at the news, I didn’t want to. I couldn’t bear to. And so the night passed hilariously and vividly, we made new friends, and D and I dozily, the following morning, sauntered and meandered happily around the fleamarket (the excitement for me of those places never diminishes: the mystery of it all as you turn a corner and think you spy someone selling old, magical, unbuyable old perfume masterpieces at a fraction of the price that they would usually be sold at); to come home lazily, have baths, and make dinner, and feel that cosy Sunday feeling with someone you love (something that Kenji Goto, and the others like him, will never be able to do again); to then suddenly to have the membrane of illusion punctured
(by this point, when I was writing the piece below, The Lily In The Bottle, I was actively deciding not to find out what had happened, childishly clinging to my happy mood), but I hadn’t told D this – he naturally just wanted to know – and then, with a few taps on a computer keyboard, the horrifying reality of this insane world that we live in came flooding into the room.
We just sat, stunned, eating in silence. How awful. How awful, was all we could say; terrible, awful.
I really thought that he might be saved. How terrible.
I can’t think of a recent event that has affected me this much, not even the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Probably because I am actually in Japan, have lived here for almost two decades now, and am thus tuned in to its feelings and atmospheres, and you could really tangibly feel that the public were really rooting for Kenji.
We are all devastated.
The cruelty of the act is something that I can’t get out of my mind. I keep imagining it and trying not to; after dinner and sitting in a daze for a while, we went upstairs and watched a Woody Allen comedy to try and find some levity, then went to bed early to forget.
It is now I.58 am, and I have just woken up from a horrific and upsetting nightmare, involving people in masks and machine guns, plots to blow up buildings, me trying to load a pistol to defend us, Duncan drugged in a room and me supposed to be leaving him there in some terrorist bomb plot, a real apocalyptic vision of horror that I woke up from with a headache and pounding heart, and I find I have to come downstairs and write this, lest it seem that I am some callous and uncaring individual who just goes gaily skipping into Tokyo for frivolities and perfume, takes ‘ironic’ pictures of ‘dead people’, and is oblivious to the nightmareish shit that is happening out there in the so-called ‘real world’ – all this fundamentalist, barbaric yearning to go back to some kind of medieval savagery in the name of ‘God.’
And while I don’t believe that we have a moral compunction to abandon our own lives and happinesses for bleeding hearts involvement in politics and war in distant countries, which is exactly the reason why we don’t have a TV (and I also believe that if more people did simply find something to enjoy in life, find pleasures in people and love; sensuality, nature, and beauty and just life itself, rather than brutally hacking off an innocent person’s head; plunging in the knife as the blood pours out of him like a slaughtered lamb and then literally rip off the head : HOW CAN THEY DO IT?) then the world, quite honestly, might be a far better place.
The dream; the instinctive desire to lose ourselves in pleasure, in art, though, has its limits.
Naturally. Obviously. All this is actually happening.
Kenji Goto is dead, and I feel helpless, very sad and touched with grief, even if I didn’t know him.
Because he was a good person who was trying to help a friend; someone who deplored violence and had devoted himself to helping children in war-ravaged places, and someone who just didn’t deserve to die such a degrading, and incomprensible, death.
Mr Goto, I mourn for you.
May you rest in peace.