The Wind Phone

The Wind Phone February 26, 2024

On March 11, 2011, a mammoth earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami that wreaked havoc in more than fifteen cities in northeastern Japan. Waves reached as high as 120 feet. More than 19,000 people were killed, and 2500 more have never been found. In thirty minutes, the town of Otsuchi was destroyed.

In trying to make sense of his grief, a gardener from Otsuchi, Itaru Sasaki, said that he needed a place to air his grief. So he moved an empty phone booth into the remnants of his garden and put an old rotary phone on a wooden shelf inside it, even though the phone wasn’t connected to anything. Then he dialed his lost loved ones and began to talk to them.

Word spread about the wind phone in Otsuchi, and in time thousands who had lost loved ones in the tsunami made pilgrimage to visit the phone booth in the garden, so they could commune with those they lost through the disconnected phone. 

There was the seventy-year-old grandmother who’d lost her husband. She brought her grandchildren so they could tell their grandfather about school. And the fifty-year-old widower who just wept into the phone and listened. And the thirty-three-year-old man who lost his parents, his wife, and his one-year-old son. He dialed the old, battered phone and listened to the wind encircle the booth and finally said, “I don’t know what I’m waiting for… I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you.” And the fifteen-year-old who lost his father, who whispered into the phone, “Why did you have to die?” A month later, he brought his younger sister. She dialed the phone and in her tears, asked, “What happened to your promise to buy me a violin? Now I’ll have to buy one myself.”

Of course, this story holds great sadness. But when we can listen to the sadness, not skipping over it, until it brings us to the bottom of all feeling, it becomes beautifully clear that it’s the power of raw feeling that moves us to express our fundamental being. And the power of that expression is what draws us together to heal. It’s the unmitigated depth of expression that releases resilience. This belongs to everyone.

When raw enough, tender enough, and honest enough, we’re not ashamed to stand in a phone booth in a garden and speak through the ruins into a phone that isn’t connected to anything. From the outside, this may seem like desperation. But having been this desperate, I can attest from the inside—that this reach into the heart of our grief is a courageous act of being that rips through all the excuses we can construct, landing us in the heat and wonder of direct living. And the heart of this courage and the heat and wonder of direct living belong to everyone. 

The phone whisperers of Otsuchi are profiles of inner courage. Each of them is a poet. And each of us is a poet, when we dare to swim to the bottom of whatever we feel in order to bring up a taste of what we all have in common. The elixir of our commonness is the reward for diving so deeply and speaking so tenderly.


A Question to Walk With: If you could speak into such a wind phone, who would you call up and what grief or loss would express?

This is from my book, Drinking from the River of Light. 

Mark will be offering retreats and a few special journeys in 2024. Below are some of his offerings: 

APRIL 26-28: Reading and Weekend Retreat, Saying Yes to Life: From Brokenness to Tenderness, The Sophia Institute, Charleston, SC, or call 843-720-8528

MAY 6: Drinking from the River of Light, Talk on the Creative Process, The Gilmore Festival, Kalamazoo Public Library, The Van Duesen Room, 2PM —

May 18–24, 2024 The Gift of Deepening and the Radiance in All Things, a weeklong retreat on a river cruise in France hosted by Global Journeys, .

JUNE 28-30: Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, NY, Falling Down and Getting Up: Discovering Your Inner Resilience and Strength, Weekend Retreat, (web link)  

AUG 16-18: Mercy By the Sea, 167 Neck Rd, Madison, CT, Publication Retreat centered on You Don’t Have to Do It Alone: The Net of Friendship, Fri 7-9:30PM EST Sat 9:30-5:30PM EST, Sun 9:30-12:30PM —

Sept 16–21, 2024 You Don’t Have to Do It Alone: The Power of Friendship, a Mastery Week at the Modern Elder Academy in Santa Fe, Mexico, .

NOV 1-3: Harmony Hill Retreat Center, Union, WA, Weekend Retreat, You Don’t Have to Do It Alone: The Net of Friendship  Contact Harmony Hill for info:

Dec 8–14,  Saying Yes to Life: The One Life We’re Given, a weeklong retreat in Costa Rica, hosted by Global Journeys, .

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