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  • Matthew Bauer

Telephone of the Wind

My apologies ahead, against the common tide of the moment, this piece has no drama, scandal, politics, celebrities or catchy headlines – just about plain human spirit, loss, how we deal with loss, what we're made of, how we deal.

On one personal front, having been immersed in startup life for the past 15 years in multiple communities, I've been searching to implement daily routines and strategies for coping with the stress while taking inventory that I'm not in my 20s anymore. Living in the Bay Area for about 1/2 of that time, there is also a constant tension in the air between building a unicorn and striving for balance, taking each day for what it is. And over the past 30+ years, I have been studying or working in the telecom industry - communications, networks & how it all happens have been a major river running through my life.

My first job (internship) in the field was with the then-Telecom & Finance Subcommittee on the Hill in D.C. At that time, there was no commercial Internet in sight, AT&T had just been broken up, mobile phones were just coming on to the horizon - hard to believe what has transpired, just the last 20 years.

So I was stopped in my tracks last week tuning into the podcast, One Last Thing Before I Go, produced recently by This American Life. Ira Glass sets the table and Miki Meek narrates and tells the story beautifully from the town of Otsuchi (near ground zero of the Tsunami from 5 years ago). A mix of her deep understanding of Japanese culture, sensitive reporting and actual calls from a few of the thousands of pilgrims that have made the trek to the phone booth to call their lost ones are just an incredible combination. The story was originally told in a documentary by NHK World TV some months back, but I encourage you to listen first to Miki's version first, here's a quick outtake from the NHK site:

"Hello. If you're out there, please listen to me." On a hill overlooking the ocean in Otsuchi Town in northeastern Japan is a phone booth known as the "Telephone of the Wind". It is connected to nowhere, but people come to "call" family members lost during the tsunami of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Many visit the phone booth including a mother and 3 children who have lost their father. This documentary looks at the unique role that this phone is playing in helping the grieving process of many. Just people trying to connect, trying to settle something inside, trying to move on in some way from loss...

"What's interesting, the phone and the combined platform (land-mobile-Internet) have quickly become fourth only after air, water, food as basic human necessities. Rooted in our need for connection - how profound and symbolic that it has now been used to communicate with those we have lost.Get quiet, take just a half hour - stop and listen, then reflect & take inventory - maybe if you are someday near that corner of Japan, stop in and say hello to someone that you have lost. Say something that you wish you had said & didn't get the chance. In the meantime, I hope the story provides a few moments of solace and reflection like it did for me & refocuses on making the most of the short time we have here. Podcast link here.

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