I love meeting new people and forging new relationships. It’s what I love about my job as a real estate agent. I met Brian Penry a Shoreline Communication Group luncheon created and held by Marcia Simon of MSE (Marcia Simon Enterprises, LLC), a boutique-style public relations agency specializing in health care and technology located on the CT Shoreline. Brian and I met again at my year end networking meeting held the 1st Wednesday of each month at Gladeview Health Care center in Old Saybrook.


​Brian Penry


Brian presented a book he wrote the foreword to that will certainly restore one’s faith in human nature. We mostly hear of looting, riots, or how government failed the population in question or how many died.  Clearly when you put all of this together after reading Brian's foreword and then the book, you’ll know that Brian is a special man. He cared and had the talent and energy to recognize that the words he was reading was in fact extraordinary and were written by quite an uncommon woman. I’m honored to know Brian and to have him as part of our group. 




The book I’m speaking about is titled Letters from the Ground to the Heart - Beauty Amid Destruction. This book is a series of letters to friends & family by Anne Thomas, an English Professor and 22-year resident of Sendai, Japan, following the devastating earthquake & tsunami of March 11, 2011. 


Anne makes the stories of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances profound – capturing our collective, global empathy. This collaborative effort also includes writings by Pema Chödrön and Miyazawa Kenji, responses from all over the globe and more.


While the news coverage has stopped, life’s struggles continue there. Every penny of proceeds from sales after expenses of ‘Letters’ benefits survivors of The Tohoku / Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Give yourself and others the gift of an extraordinary reading experience that won't soon be forgotten, while benefitting Japanese earthquake and tsunami survivors in ways that matter most: on the ground and from the heart.


Here’s the foreword by colleague Brian Penry and a Anne’s last post to the “Letter’s” facebook page. Thanks for taking the time to read this blog and for forwarding it to others. Important links can be found a the end.

Letters from the Ground to the Heart – Foreword by Brian Penry 


It was Sunday, March 13, 2011, two days after a massive, 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck the Northeastern Region of Japan known as Tohoku. While sipping coffee and going through e-mails as is my early morning ritual, I noticed an excerpt from a blog post at odemagazine.com (now odewire.com) that a friend in the UK had sent me. It was the first of what would become a series of accounts of life in Sendai, Japan following these terrible events, the ramifications of which were then and are yet unfolding – written by an American woman who has lived there for some time.

      However and rather than being predictably consumed with the statistics of death and destruction, the sum effect of her account was as though “reading” a Van Gogh painting. The words that floated up off my screen spoke of “the heavens at night” being “scattered with stars,” life in Sendai being “surreal”, and the “enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world right at this moment.” These were no ordinary thoughts – certainly not those of one processing the aftermath of tragic events in ordinary ways.

      I was moved to print this out and read it aloud at a time of sharing during church services, later that morning. It bears mentioning that I have never been very keen on organized religion, attending services only very rarely in recent years, at a white clapboard, 1700s era New England church, with a small, closely knit congregation. You could hear a pin drop as I read it, at times tearfully – to a similar response. I was still hearing from other congregants, weeks after. It was only later in the course of this project, that I would learn that this very same experience was not unique to me. 

      I searched online for this person who signed her posts at the time simply as “Anne in Japan.” I found one Anne Thomas, a U.S.-born professor of English, who after living for years throughout the world, had settled in Sendai – where she has taught at various university positions and made her home for over twenty-two years. 

      I quickly became transfixed by Anne’s posts, each an elegant yet spare homage to the simple virtues of a people and culture that has been through incredible natural, as well as unnatural disasters – not once, but many times – somehow not merely rebounding, but thriving after each, brutal challenge to their very being. 

      It wasn’t long before I found myself reaching out to Anne, who graciously added me to her e-mail list. We began corresponding, and I suggested soon thereafter that we collect her letters in a book. The purpose is twofold: to give her work a greater voice and audience, while raising funds to help survivors of the earthquake and tsunami. Perhaps notably, it is not these events themselves that precipitated her letters; it is the countless acts of human grace that followed – and which continue to inspire Anne, and all who read her words. 

      As though modest gifts in small, neatly lacquered Japanese boxes, each letter is a tiny gem. Like one in a set of Russian Matryoshka dolls, each is its own story unto itself – while fitting perfectly inside the next to create a larger story. 

      Through Anne, one vicariously witnesses a quietly dignified, orderly response to utter and complete chaos which, vs. the physical (cherry blossoms) is the true essence of “Beauty Amid Destruction.” Anne’s letters offer simple, unadorned accounts, often of the most mundane tasks – however, in ways that make fascinating the stories of people trying to function normally in the most abnormal of circumstances. They are at once a transformational tale – an illuminating journey to a greater, universally shared consciousness. 

      As you peruse the tiny sampling of responses that Anne has received from every corner of the world, you will find that I am far from alone in these observations. From New Zealand, Australia, Holland and the United Arab Emirates to France, Brazil and throughout the U.S. and beyond, Anne taps into our collective empathy – resonating with people of every conceivable age, background and persuasion. Ranging from simple messages of support to extraordinary perspectives, first-hand accounts and the aid-related initiatives of others, the responses include those of Anne’s family, friends, students past and present, and notably a gentleman named Imai Sensei, whom Anne reveres in great part for his many years and tireless efforts on behalf of Japan’s homeless – whom recent events have tested as never before.

      This effort closes with excerpts from a letter of another time, which was included at the suggestion of Anne’s cousin, Susan Brown Black, who has also contributed to this effort in profound ways. It was written by their late uncle, Henry “Had” Brown over the course of several days in October, 1945. Ironically, Had also chronicled events in and around the environs of Sendai to family and friends following disaster, albeit manmade rather than natural – while on leave as a U.S. military officer at the close of World War II.  

      It is doubly ironic, if not uncanny that the observations of Anne and her Uncle Had bracket the exact period of time during which nuclear events forever changed, and are yet again reshaping both Japan and our entire world. However and rather than delving into such bleak matters, their writings ultimately offer the prospect of hope.

      Where Anne focuses more on the people of Japan, Had was clearly fascinated by its beauty and culture. And while each writes from distinctly different vantage points, their two perspectives are separated only by time and circumstances. Both reveal one, consummate and powerfully enduring truth: that the timeless, mystical nature of Japan is inextricably intertwined with the kind spirit, patience and generosity of its people – call it their ‘cultural fortitude,’ which the Japanese seem somehow hardwired to share not only with each other, but especially and instinctively in times of extreme challenge with those around them, as well. 

      A few thoughts in closing… 

      I ask that you please keep Anne’s observations in their full context. Her positive, upbeat appraisals of efforts to rebuild should not be misconstrued to mean that the immediacy and urgency of Japan’s needs has somehow past. Many, particularly in Tohoku, the Northeastern Region of Japan – are yet in dire need of assistance.

      Lastly, my hope is that through these collected letters and more, that Anne’s message, along with those of others will now reach, enlighten and inspire larger, more diverse audiences – perhaps to think differently, more compassionately about people and cultures other than their own – and above all, to act – not only in times of need, but through small acts of kindness, throughout the precious moments of each day.

– Brian Penry 


Anne’s Latest –‘Letters’ FB page December 20, 2011


Japan is pretty much out of the news these days. But life is still far from easy here in Tohoku. Winter has settled in with freezing temperatures and frequent snow, sometimes flurries, sometimes storms. The Red Cross and Army left several months ago, so the clean up job and rebuilding are now the responsibility of each prefecture.  That work is going on continually, but slowly. Reports say it will take another two years or more before the devastated areas are ready for rebuilding.


In the meantime, people who lost their homes are living in temporary houses, whole families in small apartments, evacuation centers, a few of which are still open, and in the back of trucks or in cars. The homeless live in parks and underground walkways during the day. They walk all night so as not to freeze to death. Many people are still out of work. In fact, the jobless rate among young adults is 50% or more. Depression and suicides are on the rise. 

We have come a long way and are proud of that. But we also realize there is still so  much to do.


We all hope that 2012 will be kinder to us. They say that the danger of another earthquake lasts for a full year. So, we are still alert as we go about our daily lives. In another arena we also know that next year brings the end of government financial assistance to those devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. We also realize that jobs are very scarce here now. So, we are quietly watching, wondering, hoping for a year that allows us opportunities to work together and do all we can to make life better for everyone we in need. 


Please help:


Every penny of proceeds from sales after expenses of ‘Letters benefits survivors of The Tohoku / Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.


Important Links:


​Buy the Book from Lulu.com


Official Website


​Like On Facebook


Follow On Twitter