• Lisa

The Wind Phone

Grief is universal. Every human being grieves, but we do it differently and often in our differences, we can learn from one another.

So it is with the story of the "Wind Phone."

In 2010, a man living on the coast of Northern Japan was grieving the loss of his cousin. He didn’t know how to talk about it, how to air out his grief. So, he fixed up an old phone booth, set it along the cliff’s edge and placed a table inside with a rotary phone….a phone connected to nowhere. But this became his place, to sit with the phone to his ear, talking things over with his cousin, giving his grief a voice. He hoped the wind that blew continually from that cliff would carry his thoughts and words…to the right place.

In 2011, the massive earthquake and tsunami hit that part of Japan, totally destroying the town just down the road from the location of the "Wind Phone." In thirty minutes, this town became non-existent with thousands dead or missing, never to be found.

Soon, the word got out about the "Wind Phone." In the years following, thousands of people from all over Japan have come to that windy cliff, gotten into the phone booth and placed their call to the person who is no longer physically with them.

A recent documentary made in Japan about the "Wind Phone" was discussed recently on NPR’s program This American Life. It describes how a small audio recorder was placed in the phone booth and a remote camera installed for discreet filming. The podcast is both remarkable and moving as we listen to the voices of the people who air their grief with the rotary phone. The conversations are sometimes a highlight of what has been happening in their lives or perhaps someone just stands there in silence with the phone to their ear…waiting. We learn of the ways people say "I love you" and "I miss you." We also hear the story of a teen boy whose dad had been missing since the disaster; he took public transportation to visit the "Wind Phone." The next day he returned with his mom and 2 younger siblings. He encouraged them to go into the phone booth, either together or alone, whatever felt right. As a listener to the story, one begins to feel their grief shift as it took on shared words and feelings. For 5 years, this family had not shared any of their grief, yet the grief waited until the "Wind Phone" could give it a collective voice, and healing could begin.

So it can be for us…..we may need a phone that connects to nowhere…but to the right place.) (With thanks to Papillon's co-founder Joy and facilitator Kevin for sharing this poignant story.)

Producer Miki Meek tells the story of a phone booth in Japan that attracts thousands of people who lost loved ones in the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. A Japanese TV crew from NHK Sendai filmed people inside the phone booth whose phone is not connected to anything at all.

Click here to listen to the 21-minute recording on NPR's This American Life:

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