In which there is another story of disaster and redemption

In the time immediately following the Oso Landslide this year, there was a flurry of folks preaching disaster preparedness...none of which would have helped anybody affected by the slide.  

I could only think of this story, and so I'm including it this year, so that we don't forget that sometimes we can't prepare...but we can still help.

Burning the Rice (Japan)

Long ago in Japan there lived an old man.

His farmhouse sat high up on a plateau with a lofty wooded mountain behind it. His rice fields grew on terraced fields above the house.  Below him, far down below, a little village of about a hundred thatched houses and a temple stood on the shoreline.

One afternoon the old man sat with his young grandson on the balcony of his house, watching the people in the village below. The rice crop had been good; the villagers were holding their harvest festival. Shops were closed; streets were gaily decorated; villagers were about to join in the harvest dance.

From the hilltop, the old man and his grandson could see the vast blue sea in the distance. He suddenly felt the ground beneath his feet shake, and heard the furniture in the house moving around. Now, this man had felt many earthquakes before. He was not at all frightened until he looked toward the sea.
The water was dark green and very rough. The tide had suddenly changed --- the sea was running swiftly away from the land!

The puzzled villagers stopped their dancing and ran to the shore to watch.  They had never seen such a thing before.

But the old man’s grandmother had seen one such sight as a little child, and had told him what the sea would do next. No time to send a message to the village, no time to ring the big temple bell, yet people must be warned.

"Quickly!” he called to his little grandson. "Light a torch! Quickly, quickly!"

The boy was puzzled, but he lit the torch immediately and gave it to his grandfather. The old man ran to his fields, where hundreds of rice stacks stood awaiting the wagons that would carry them to market the following day. This rice was his whole harvest—it would bring all the money he would earn in the year. 

The old man ran from one stack to another, applying the torch to each. The dry stalks caught fire quickly, and soon the red flames were shooting upward, and the smoke was rising in great columns.

The boy ran after his grandfather, shouting and crying, "Grandfather! Why are you setting fire to the rice?"

The old man had no time to answer, but ran on, firing stack after stack. The high wind caught the sparks and carried them farther, until all the fields were ablaze.

The watcher in the temple saw the fire and rang the bell; people turned to look. In Japan everyone in the village must give help in time of fire. The people began to run. They climbed the mountain --- young men, boys, women, girls, old folk, mothers with babies on their backs, even little children joined in the race to put out the fires.

But when they reached the plateau, it was too late. All the rice was completely burned.

"It is too bad," the people exclaimed. "How did it happen?"

"Grandfather did it," cried the grandson. "With a torch he set fire to the rice. He is mad."

"You did this thing !" they cried out in anger to the old man. "You set fire to your own rice fields!"

"Look toward the sea," said the old man, "and know my purpose."

The people looked, and far out at sea they saw a great wall of water swiftly sweeping toward them. It was the returning sea! The hills were drenched in a great burst of foam.

When the cloud of spray disappeared, the people saw a wild sea raging over their village. Again the wall of water struck, and again and again. At last it fell back once more to its former bed.

The people were speechless. Their village was gone; their temple; their fields. Nothing was left but a few straw roofs floating on the water. But every man and woman and child was safe high up on the mountain.

Now the people understood why the old man had set fire to his rice.  


The winter would be hard.  But together, because he had saved them, the people of the village would survive.

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