What We Can Do for the People of Japan

03/19/2011 05:58 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The people of Japan have suffered severe trauma since last week's earthquake. And rather than experiencing conditions of secure normalcy that victims of trauma need to begin healing, Japan lives under the threat of a nuclear meltdown. Fear is ever present, their existence under siege.

How can we help from across an ocean? One immediate way is by donating money to the Red Cross (texting 90999 will create a donation of $10) and by sending our prayers to them. Though this might seem of little consequence, our demonstrating that we feel empathy and connection to the people of Japan can mitigate one of trauma's most damaging effects: the shattering of connection to others, a sense of isolation and abandonment. Feeling part of a community gives us strength and hope.

We can also send "cards" to the people of Japan, expressions of our connections. With Twitter and Facebook, we have the means to do this despite all the destruction and disruptions to their infrastructure.

The photo below shows the art of Si Lewen, a World War II veteran who was among the liberators of Buchenwald. You can see some of his work at An artist before the war, he returned to his art afterwards, creating a staggering body of work that explores the full paradox of human potential and spirit. In Mr. Lewen's words, "Through art perhaps, we may succeed in transforming ourselves into the image of our dreams. Even when 'dead serious,' the creative process, ultimately, should prove to be a redeeming, even jubilant event, not only for the artist."

I went to meet Mr. Lewen, and after talking all afternoon with him and his wife of 70 years, Rennie, they showed me a wall in their bedroom. It is covered with 50 of the thousand canvases of a symphony of color that Mr. Lewen created for his own healing. "Color is everything to me," Mr. Lewen told me. "This is what I wake to every morning," he said pointing to the canvases. "Color sustains me."


His words made me cry, as they validated a hunger I have known ever since my mother was taken from me when I was five. I crave color. I drench my bedroom and house in color. I wilt in a grey world.

That is what the people of the northeastern part of Japan have now: a very grey world. So I send to them the photograph I took of Si Lewen's bedroom wall. May it help sustain their hope and their spirits. And may we all pray that the engineers avert a nuclear disaster.