Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Train Changes

There is a lot of space in my apartment.  The air is full of possibilities.  I'm crowding the space more and more, bit by bit, one grain of rice (or a whole pot) at a time.  It's strange to be here and to taking up my space and filling it with odds and ends, some freely acquired, others selected and paid for.  But for the most part, there is nothing Darwinian about the things that made it here with me and it makes me wonder about myself.  An oversized sweater that my mother threw at me to stay warm on the bus in Chicago two months ago has somehow clung to my light footedness, as has a pillow that I grabbed on my way out of the house to have somewhere to rest my head in case of who knows what.  Nothing planned in these objects, no years of sentimental accrual to bring them thousands of miles for this adventure but here they are and here I am.  As I rode the bus to Takarazuka on the way to Osaka, I reflected on a period of my life in middle school, one which was recently brought to mind before I left Cincinnati as we pulled out family albums in a memorial for our dog, Penny.  Seeing pictures of the past invites a previous state of mind, previous relations with family and friends, loves and fears and values.  Then I was there, and now I'm here.  And I wondered if this recurring amazement, "I'm in Japan," will ever transform into, "I'm from America."  How did I get here?  What happened between middle school and now?  Did I select this over years of decisions and growth or was this a happenstance of the universe?

But there is a continuity between then and now, one that I'm longing to remember in these days of just getting settled.  It's there, very nearby.  I can see it in the way that I start to set up my apartment, the way that I move around in my space.  When I'm alone I can feel it in my practice and individual routine. But I think this continuity can extend to a way of interacting with others as well.  Courtesy transcends international borders.  Today on the train platform, a teenager with headphones dropped a card and was about to get on a train.  I tapped his shoulder, saying "Sumimasen" (Excuse me) and handed him the card.  It's a small favor, but there is something so satisfying in reaching out in my new home, in touching somebody's shoulder.   And a young girl handed me change when I dropped it, and a man in a wheel chair bowed his head to thank me for moving my cello.  Making eye contact here and there in a respectful way, something that I can't tell whether it is a part of Japanese culture or not, or if it is a part of American culture or not.  But it's a culture in which I believe and would like to cultivate wherever I am.  As I break away from the early wide-eyed wonder of being here, I notice that I see people less as being different from me as they are different from everyone.  Each person is the same as me and different from me as the people that I see on a bus in America.  Each person is as same and different as the person next to them on the train.  It is comforting in this time of alienation from all things familiar that I am surrounded by people with whom I can extend and receive small acts of kindness as fellow human beings.  It makes the world seem a little smaller and transitions a little smoother.

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