On 9 August 1945 the Servant of God Takashi Nagai, a Japanese Catholic and academic radiologist, was working in the Nagasaki Medical College Hospital when the atomic bomb was dropped on that city. His wife, Maria Midori Moriyama, was killed in the attack. She was 37.
Nagasaki was also the largest centre of Japanese Catholics. 2 out of every 3 Catholics in Nagasaki were killed.
Already afflicted by radiation poisoning from his work in the nascent field of radiology, the blast would hasten his death, which would occur 6 years later. In those years following the bombing, Nagai collected a series of notes which were put together to form the book Leaving My Beloved Children Behind. It was first published in book form in 1956 and only got translated into English in 2008.
The thoughts in these notes are largely dedicated to the status of orphanhood, in particular the impending state of orphanhood that will soon greet his children, Makoto and Kayano. The pages are replete with expressions anxiety borne from this realisation and are often relentless and hard-rendering. In working through these anxieties, however, what also comes out are some of the most profound spiritual insights – on faith, providence, and the loyalties of a child – that are the fruit of his grappling with his experience of loss and death. Below is a sample of such reflections.
Of the day of the bombing: I saw the blinding flash of light from my radium lab. At that instant not only was my present blown away, but my past was destroyed and my future was ruined. In front of my very eyes, my beloved university, along with my beloved students, became one huge ball of fire. My wife, to whom I had entrusted our children after I should be gone, was reduced to a light bucketful of bones that I had to pick up from the ruins of our house. She had died in the kitchen.
Of his exposure to radiation and the new “atomic bomb disease”: Obviously I can’t see patients anymore. I don’t even have the strength to look through a microscope. The one saving grace has been that the very atomic bomb disease that I wanted to study was in my own body! This was very convenient because, with deep composure, I could observe and think about its daily development and the relationship between conscious symptoms and changes in the status of my disease…Since my blood samples contained all sorts of normal as well as diseased corpuscles, they become excellent study material for the students in those day did not have textbooks…In this way, I felt that I was making it up to my students for being bedridden and unable to deliver lectures.
Of his impending death and his daughters: So what if my spleen should burst, if my child enjoyed being loved by me as a father even for a few moments? But this was not permitted me. I have to live a month longer, a day longer, or even just an hour longer, in order to push farther into the future time when this child becomes an orphan. I must plead for an extension of my life by even a minute, even a second, so that the time this child will feel lonely will be shortened by that amount.
Of Divine Providence: … I must always praise and be grateful for, Divine Providence, because God created a person God loved, and that person is me. God created me because God wanted to love me; there is no malicious creation by God. God always loves me, and constantly wishes me to be happy. Just as God gives as an act of love, God takes as an act of love. Everything that takes place around me is an expression of God’s providential love. Therefore, I cannot help praising the name of the Lord, no matter what happens to me…We who survived…thought that the atomic bomb was not a divine punishment, but had to be the expression of a divine providence with some deep plan…The bomb had removed the obstacles that had hampered my walking down the right path, and I was able to experience true happiness.