Search This Blog

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday: Leaving Japan

I’m on a plane flying from Tokyo to the twin cities of St Paul and Minneapolis. I am finding it difficult to continue the description of our trip from where we left off. Several days have passed since I have last been both inclined to write and able to write simultaneously. Blogging was taking up valuable time from those human connections I spoke of, and was also costing plenty of money to rent an internet connection every day.

One of the most interesting things that has already happened to me between arriving at the airport and right now, and it has been several hours, is that I am completely shocked every time someone understands what I’m saying. I‘m also shocked every time someone speaks to me in English. I can only imagine that this will be amplified at the airport in America. And it triggers something new in me.

As the planes pushes on through darkness I can see only Nothingness out the window. Hours ago the moon was out, and I could watch both the moon shining against ink sky as well as its eerie reflection on the wing of the plane. But now, Nothingness.

As we rush through Nothingness I believe I can feel the weight of responsibility descending on me. The responsibilities I have aren’t horrific or debilitating. They’re pretty average. Many of them are by choice because they each enable the life I want in a different way. And some of them are so deeply a part of me I wasn’t even aware of them until this trip. Right now, however, they are all heavy in the shadow of Nothingness. Obligation to family and friends. Obligation to my patients and coworkers. The responsibilities of bill paying and apartment cleaning. Shopping, cooking and remembering to tip wait staff. This morning we all spread our bodies out on John and Dave’s bed and watched Tokyo begin its day outside the window. We didn’t wear shoes, and we were wearing robes. Now I am returning back to a land where my days must begin and end.

As we lay in the bed John said that he thought of not going back. He said he’s send a post it note. But I said I wouldn’t be brining it back, I’d be staying too. Steph and I began imagining what life would be like if we just chose not to go to the airport. I saw very few problems with the idea so long as I contacted my family and told them. In fact, I imagined a new life in Japan might be just what I needed. Eventually, we both supposed, we’d have to get jobs here. Have a life with a beginning and ending of days. But even that idea didn’t put an end to the temptation. The true beauty and ultimate attraction to not boarding this plane was articulated by John. And it wasn’t lack of structure, or not having to wear a tie, or any of that stuff. John, who had gotten up to shower but then decided to sit on the floor and listen turned his head towards us and said quietly, “It’s the attraction of being Nobody.”

It’s an idea that we all talked about this week in different words. We all really liked being in the minority, we all liked being Nobody. An idea that echoed in the movie John showed us online, a one minute piece he had made with his wife around the Emily Dickinson poem , “Nobody.” In being Nobody, and especially by being Nobody together, we were free.

By being in Japan we effectively became the anonymous. Sure, we all checked our email. But anyone who has even left home for a few days knows how it only takes a short while for a new world to be created. It’s not that I didn’t miss my family or friends. It’s that the mind adjusts. And I soon got used to not having to check in with anyone besides my four traveling companions. And those check ins were seldom extensive, as we were together almost every step of the journey. And so, with no one effectively to check in with, no one to check up on… we melted into a sea of strangers. Comfortably.

But more than just anonymous, in Japan we were also living like children. No one expected us to know all the rules, or to get them right all the time. We did not have to read signs or understand what people yelled to us from atop wooden boxes in the street. We tried to speak the language and were rewarded with smiles and nods, but no one insisted that we explain ourselves ever beyond one or two words. We lived by our wants, “mizu kudasai,” and our gratitude, “arigato gosaimas.” And that was the essence of our existence. “Water please,” and “thank you so much, with honor.” We wandered the streets and laughed and danced. We chased each other around crowded sidewalks and made up games. We sang songs we all knew, and made new ones up. We looked at things we did not understand and appreciated them without understanding. We smiled at people just because they were other people.

To paraphrase Herman Hesse, we looked at the world simply, like children; and therefore we were blessed.

In America we are accountable for every minute. We are grownups. In Japan we hid in the open. In America we are visible and vulnerable. From Nobodies to Somebodies.

And for a while this morning after John’s words I meditated on being Nobody or being Somebody. Although I clearly made the decision to go back home, what I am taking away from the experience is this: we all need some down time. We all need to step away from Twitter and face book. We all need some time to be anonymous. We need to dwell on our own mysteries sometimes.

And moreover, we all need time to be children. The Bible records Jesus as saying that only those who were children in spirit could enter the kingdom of Heaven. There is something huge to that. Bigger than we can grasp. Sometimes we need to just walk around and take pictures of things we don’t understand. And sing songs. Meet some strangers. Ask for water. And say, oh thank you, so much, I hold you in a place of honor. And move on.

1 comment:

liz said...

So this is the third time I've read this, and I'm still struggling to say how it's made me feel. It feels like incredibly concentrated oxygen. Or like falling. Also, obviously, it feels like something I've heard before.

I'm glad you came back.