I’ve confronted, endured and in some cases overcome all manner of challenges. In some cases, doing so has changed me for the better, and in others, well, not so much.
For example, one change I’m particularly pleased with is that I’ve learned how to channel much of my frustration, resentment and anger into my writing, transforming those powerful emotions into creativity, like converting a hot serving of shit into a five-course dinner at a four-star hotel.
An example of a change I’m not so proud of is the habit I’ve embraced of not looking at Japanese people when I’m out and about. I’ve found that the less I see of them and their sickening behavior (not all but more than enough of them) the less I have to restrain myself from acting on the thoughts (some violent) triggered by their actions, which would likely result in my doing something regrettable. Not looking helps me achieve my version of patience and tolerance, of keeping my temper in check and reducing stress.
Definitely nothing to be proud of.
Which is what I just happened to be doing at the time the earth decided to make a few ultimately minor alterations somewhere in the Pacific ocean off the coast of Japan.
I was walking toward Kikuna station. The closer I got to the station the more populated the streets became. Being in the populace is no fun for the reasons I stated above. As soon as I entered the ekimae (area in front of the station) the Japanese shifted into “Oh no” mode. I received a number of gaijin salutes from people suffering from the tic. Several people gave me the perimeter or made the gaijin detour, leaping from the sidewalk into the street to make way for me. You know, the usual Japanese foolishness. I shifted into tolerance mode, put my head down, gritted my teeth and carried on…thinking hateful shit.
It was about at that moment that the Earth, as if reflecting the rumbling vexation within me, started doing likewise. I didn’t notice, I was so busy doing battle with my lesser angels.
Until I saw two cops running towards me.
Great! The Thought Police. They’re gonna burn me at a community pyre all the homicidal scenarios that go through my mind!
But, they weren’t looking at me, they were looking up! I followed their eyes and saw that the power lines were swinging, and so were the poles they were connected to. Wait! Everything was swinging and shaking!
That’s when my legs got wobbly, like someone had given me a charlie horse. But I was cool. Eight years in Japan and you get used to the terrestrial hiccups that occur here almost daily. The tremors have their NY equivalents in my mind so I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with them. Like an underground subway train rumbling beneath your feet, or an 18-wheeled tractor trailer whizzing by your window, the vacuum sometimes strong enough to rattle them. And these tremors are usually pretty short. You can forget they even happened in a matter of moments.
But, as I looked around, my hands stretched out before me like a blind man, trying to keep my balance, I realized this was not a tremor! Watching power lines and even poles sway and swing is one thing, but watching train stations and buildings sway is another. I heard loud noises, rattling, clinging, banging metal and glass, like a thousand chandeliers shaking. Sounds I’d never heard before were coming from all over, like the street was screaming. And the people all around me who were, just a few moments ago, “saluting” and making detours around me, were now at a lost for what to do, just looking around at one another, waiting for the end, whether it be in death, injury or other.
I was, too. Looking at people, that is. Maybe the last people I would ever see, the tachycardia in my chest informed me.
I staggered out of the street onto the sidewalk cuz traffic was still moving- some motorist were perhaps unaware of what was happening- and I groped for a building. I looked above my head. a sign was swinging on flimsy hinges. I moved away into the path of a building what looked like a lean-to, made of wood. Surely it would fall in seconds. To my left and right were things that could kill me, structures had became lethal. The dry cleaners was a two-story tall brick executioner on the Creator’s payroll. Yoshinoya (the fast food joint) was a ninja, armed with secret weapons, ready to kill anyone who came near.
So, I stopped trying to out think God. And God acknowledged my acquiesence by exploding a window near the area I had thought about running to for safety.
No screams. There would be screaming in NY. There were none in Yokohama.
I looked around into the faces of these people, these strangers I usually hold in such contempt, truth be told, and felt no spite, no disgust, no animosity, and no contempt whatsoever for them nor from them.
This, for the first time in years!
We were one and the same! They looked at me and saw a human scared shit-less, and so did I, only I wasn’t the object of their fear. In actuality, we were looking at each other but, to borrow the words of the late, great Zora Neale Hurston, our “eyes were watching God!”
It was a lovely moment.
Then, like an old car engine, with rumbling fits, the quake subsided. Nobody moved for a solid 15 seconds. If they were like me they were trying to hold on to that precious and rare view of eternity we’d all been given, that ethereal glimpse of the inner workings of the Universe, and our place in it. Just for a moment longer. Savoring our smallness, our triviality, while at the same time silently extolling the bonanza life is.
My first step was Armstrong’s first step on the moon.
I followed it with another and another and before I knew it I was walking among the stunned masses without being noticed, feeling our equality. Everyone was my kin. We’d shared something that no one- at least not immediately- wanted to discard.
Trains were out, naturally,so I went to a cafe next to the station, and took a table, amazed at how the staff were hardly behaving like they’d just experienced the worst earthquake in their lifetimes. I ordered coffee. Others, realizing the cafe was open for business, came in and before long the cafe was full. The table nearest mine was not the last to be taken I noticed because it was so jarring an aberration from the norm.
Some of the older patrons were reading newspapers or chatting with friends. When the first aftershock hit, a pretty big one, the light fixtures started swinging like pendulums and from my window I could see flimsy buildings waving like metronomes. Some dishes fell behind the counter, crashing to the floor. The staff apologized for the disturbance like there wasn’t a clear excuse for it, like there wasn’t death in the air. And everyone else also had “the worst is over” prayerful nonchalance. Still reading, still chatting. It was creepy to watch, but in a beautiful way.
It was about then that I thought about 9/11.
How at that time I had been so focused on my fear, so young, that I didn’t take a moment to see the beauty of fear…I was so afraid that I’d gone blind.
I’ve changed in the 9 and a half years since 9/11, most of which I’ve spent here in Asia. Being the object of fear for so many years has slightly altered my relationship with fear, the same way the earth had slightly altered its position just moments ago. Changing that relationship in ways I had been too busy writing to notice.
I remember thinking (an epiphanous thought really) that my writing is the earthquake resulting from this alteration; every story a tremor.
It’s the most profound and inspiring thought I’ve had since 9/11.
It took me back to the time I described in part 1 of this essay, in the days before 9/11, when I was so beautiful, so unstoppable, unflappable I could do ANYTHING!
And it informed me, in no uncertain terms, that that beauty was still there, in me, and in everything and everyone around me.
It took an earthquake to shake me awake, but now I’m up, baby.
And I can see it!
On 9/11/2001 I closed my eyes.
On 3/11/2011 I re-opened them.
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