I don’t know how to articulate what I see in these “warning stones” from the Fukashima disaster three years ago, these messages from the Ancestors. Nonetheless, I kept this photo and others knowing that I wanted to come back to this image and consider it more deeply.
The shape of the warning stone is striking, like a headstone only it’s marking the future, not only the past. The stones in Japan sit at the high water mark of centuries-old tsunamis. The words carved across its face tell people to build their houses only above this marker. Below, the stone says, in so many words: build your house below this marker and the tsunami will devour you.
I’m paraphrasing the warnings carved into the many different stones found again in Japan after the 2011 tsunami. Together they make up a rudimentary tsunami warning system. Ages past could not have predicted the nuclear disaster that’s still unfolding there. These re-discovered stones are being studied as part of the larger challenge of how we warn future generations of the dangers we’re leaving them.
Stones and stories, while appearing to be primitive technologically, may be the most effective way to alert future generations to the deadly stores of radioactive nuclear waste at Los Alamos, New Mexico, for example. Warning stones are part of an ancient inter-generational set of stories that scientists are now studying to see how to safely and effectively transmit critical information to future generations. It has to be simple, powerful, and effective. Even then, there are no assurances.
The headstones at Love Cemetery, indeed at any cemetery, are not generally stones that warn us of a natural disaster like a tsunami like these Japanese stones. Still, there may be fruitful parallels here. Today we have un-natural disasters, like Fukashima, like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which future generations need to be aware of.
Perhaps this October evening, it’s enough to reflect upon the resonance this image struck, this chord that reverberates as I look at it. It tells me that people in ages past left us signs, gave us information, carved warnings for us, gave us a symbol systems, maps in another way. It tells me that these ancestors were on our side, that they tried to provide us with what is needed for life to continue, for us to flourish.
And that we need to be attentive, to take care, to pay heed. To not dismiss old wives tales and warning stones, and myths. Perhaps those dragons guarding caves in stories were not enemies after all, but in fact, great ancestral friends from another realm, who protect us from the limits and errors of human kind.
If we will listen. If we will read their ancient signs.
The villagers who brought their children up studying their village tsunami stone and heeding its warning about where to build, survived. Other villages who ignored these stones were wiped out.
Love is so strong that it can cut into stone itself and love will take the time to do so. Moreover love will thoughtfully locate itself at the most critical juncture, at the balancing poing between life and death. Love locates itself at the boundaries, the outer limits, holds the extremities. Our ancestors took the measure, learned at great cost what it takes to live. Then they recorded the measure in stone, that we might live.
Halloween is upon us – all Hallowed’s Eve in the Christian tradition, All Saints Day the next, the Day of the Dead. Other say that Halloween is an ancient harvest festival that predates the churches by thousands of years. It’s part of the cycle of celebrations of harvest and planting. There’s more to Halloween than American trick or treating. The trick is to celebrate and give thanks amidst the hilarity and surprises, the silliness, the clowning, the mystery and the disguises; the treat is to encounter the unexpected, to let ourselves also have a genuine encounter with the spirit and the wisdom of those who’ve gone before.
It is good to honor these Ancestors known and unknown and to thank them, even for their warnings.