Kenzaburo Oe, a writer, had a job to do. He was traveling to Hiroshima to write a story about its people for a magazine. But Oe’s mind was not on his work. At home, in hospital, his baby boy was fighting for his life. His son was born seriously disabled. He was close to death. Oe loved his baby, but part of him almost wanted his son to die. Life with a disabled child is difficult. Oe was not sure that he was strong enough.
Oe stepped off the train in to the warm August air. It was early morning and the city was quiet. Maybe it was a morning like this on August 6, 1945, he thought. On that day, American airplanes flew over Hiroshima and dropped the world’s first atomic bomb. The world was never the same again.
Most people agree that this terrible bomb ended World War II. As a result, many thousands of lives were saved. But the bomb also destroyed thousands of lives in and around Hiroshima on that day. For years, people suffered and died from terrible, painful “A-bomb illnesses.” Even today, sixty years later, people continue to suffer from the results of the A-bomb.
Disabled /dls’elb;¡ld/ (adj) someone who cannot use a part of his or her body or mind in the usual way.
As Oe thought about his son and the terrible history of Hiroshima, he felt sadder and lonelier. How could he ever find hope in this difficult world?
The next morning, Oe walked through Hiroshima’s Peace Park toward the hospital. He wanted to interview the hospital’s boss, Dr. Fumio Shigeto, for the magazine. As he pushed open the hospital doors, he immediately thought of his sick son. He wanted to escape from the clean smell of medicine quickly. But as Oe listened to the doctor’s story, he became more and more interested in the problems of Hiroshima, and the courage of its people.
On August 6, 1945, young Dr. Shigeto was waiting for a bus to take him to Hiroshima city center. Suddenly there was a bright light and a silent wave of heat. In seconds the A-bomb destroyed almost everything around it-buildings, trees, cars, and people. Luckily, the doctor was standing next to a strong wall, and he was not burned or killed. But seconds after the bomb, his ears were filled with the screams of people suffering around him. His position seemed helpless. But Dr. Shigeto calmly opened his black doctor’s bag and began helping the person nearest to him.
The problem was much too big for one person, but nothing could stop the doctor. He worked bravely to stop the suffering. He did not rest for two weeks. On the worst day in ]apanese history, Dr. Shigeto did everything possible for the people around him.
As Oe listened to Dr. Shigeto’s story, he began to understand more about true courage. “Every day, a thousand people dead. But …I continued,” the doctor explained. People can find courage at the worst times, Oe realized. Deep inside, he had great strength, too-enough strength to fight for his son’s life.
Back in Tokyo, Oe visited his son’s hospital and talked seriously to the doctors. “This was the most important change of my life,” he said later. “I began to do something for my son, for myself, and for my wife.”
For six years, Oe and his family worked hard to give their disabled child the best possible life. They played music to him and read him stories. “We love you,” they told him. But little Hikari could not reply. At the most difficult times, Oe remembered Dr. Shigeto’s courage. It always gave him the strength to continue.
Hikari loved the sound of birds singing, so Oe bought a cassette with bird songs and the birds’ names on it. Hikari listened silendy to the cassette for hours, still unable to speak. But Hikari wanted to tell his loving family, “I love you, too.”
One day, Oe was walking in a small forest with Hikari on his shoulders. Suddenly, Oe heard a sound above him. He thought he was dreaming. “It’s a water rail.” the voice said. Oe stood in silence for five minutes, then it came again: first, the high sound of a bird singing, and then his son’s clear voice, “It’s a water rail.”
Hikari could speak! After all their hard work, the Oe family could enjoy the results. Oe learned from Dr. Shigeto’s courage. And now Hikari showed great courage, too. The young boy loved listening to music. It was difficult for him, but he learned to read music and play the piano. Slowly, with his family’s help, he learned to speak, too. By the age of eighteen, Hikari was writing his own music-and people loved it. Today you can buy Hikari Oe’s music in stores around the world. Music is his language, and the love of his family helped him as much as any medicine.
We cannot imagine the fear that Dr. Shigeto felt in Hirashima in 1945. But millions of people around the world face personal difficulties like Kenzaburo and Hikari Oe’s every day. Oe learned about courage from Dr. Shigeto. And Hikari learned to be brave from his father. In the same way, we can all learn about courage from the stories in this book. When times are difficult, remember these brave people. You, too, can find the strength and courage that you need.