She is still alive . . . somehow. No one is sure how. Her hair is nestled in a glass case in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Nearly all of it fell out in late August of 1945 as her mother brushed it just shortly after the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima. She was eighteen years old on the day the bomb fell and she and her younger brother dug themselves out from under their collapsed home. She was burned severely. Both suffered extensively from radiation poison after the bombing. He died. She survived and has lived another 65 years and counting.
Somehow her hair found its way into the museum where I saw it today. It was a tough morning, to be perfectly honest, and it all was summed up for me in this clump of hair that had fallen out of the head of an 18 year old girl. Apparently her mother kept it because she assumed her daughter would soon be dead and she wanted to remember her–to somehow keep her close.
I have tried to imagine the moment. A mother is brushing her child’s hair. Most all of us have either brushed our child’s hair or had our hair brushed. It is a shared human experience–intimate and loving. Suddenly this mother notices that something is wrong. She brushes out clumpfuls of hair until just a small ridge on the forehead is left. She covers her mouth in horror, traumatized that, at just the moment that her 18 year old daughter should have been enjoying the beauty of youth and the joy of life, her hair is falling out.
The young girl’s name was Hiroko Yamashita and she is a member of the Hiroshima Baptist Church where I will speak tonight. Her pastor tells me that she now lives in a nursing home.
For me, she represents hope in the midst of the ultimate hopelessness.
We human beings are pretty frail creatures when it comes to atomic bombs. We don’t stand up well against them. This woman did. She lost her hair but not her life. And she gives me hope that we truly are stronger than the violence and hatred that marks our world and that somehow, in the long run, we will overcome it.