Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Detour, part 1

Heard a Jens Lekman song recently that starts with these lyrics:
If I had to choose a moment in time
to take with me into eternity
I would choose this,
this moment with you in my arms.
I don't know if the concept of taking a moment into eternity has religious or cultural significance, but it reminds me of an excellent Japanese movie I saw a while back called After Life. The movie is very simple, and slow-moving, but profound: After people die, they go to a sort of in-between place where they must choose one memory from their lives that will be recorded for them to take with them to heaven, or wherever the afterlife is.

After seeing the movie, then buying the DVD and seeing it again, the concept became a most favored conversation topic for a while: What if you had to choose just one experience from life, and that's the only thing you'd remember for all of eternity? Which experience would you choose?

Hey, actually, maybe you can skip down to the comments, write your memory out, which will then be preserved for the eternal life of the internet. Then, come back to this spot and keep reading.

OK ... done writing (or thinking about) your one eternal memory?

Here's mine:

Almost exactly eleven years ago, back in 1997, I stepped off a plane at the Osaka, Japan, airport. I was alone, with a couple of suitcases of clothes and CDs, waiting to be picked up and taken to my new home. I had recently been hired to teach conversational English in a town called Numazu. I had also recently broken up with a longterm girlfriend, quit a kick-ass job at a small newspaper in Vermont, said sayonara to friends and family, and boarded the plane with little knowledge of what was to come.

Here's how stupid I was (stupid? naive? clueless? whatever word fits best): With me I had no contact information should anything go wrong. I simply relied on my new employer's word that someone would be at the airport to pick me up. Well, you guessed it, no one was there.

After I passed through customs and into the airport, I was bombarded with newness: This place was clean and modern, so much like the country I had just left, but I was hearing announcements in a language I didn't understand, I was looking at signs with squiggly writing, I was seeing lots and lots of Japanese people. This was my first time out of the country, and I wasn't prepared for any of it.

I didn't see anyone looking for me. No sign with my name on it. No one calling my name. As my fellow passengers cleared out, I was left alone. It was evening, maybe 8 p.m., but it was amazing how quickly the place quieted down. No ... one ... left.

"I guess they're late," I thought, and plopped down on my bags. Fifteen minutes later, and still no one. I started feeling tinges of concern. No, wait, those feelings had started on the flight, this was escalating into panic. Yeah, I know, it was only fifteen minutes of waiting, but in that time, so many thoughts crossed my mind: What was I doing here? What was my problem? Why had I decided to drop everything to do this thing? Was I just running away from something or someone? What if no one comes to get me? What am I going to do? I wonder when the next flight back to Chicago is?

I eventually worked up the courage to approach the information desk.

"Um," I said, realizing I hadn't learned a single word of Japanese before coming over. Oh, I had planned to, but just had never gotten around to it. (At the time, I did know that one "Mr. Roboto" song, but had no idea that domo arigato means "thank you very much," even though that's stated very clearly in the song.)

"Can I help you?" the very cute woman at the information desk asked. She spoke English, yes!

"Someone is supposed to meet me," I said, "and they're not here. Did anyone ... call or anything?"

"What is the party's name, please?"

I had no idea. "I don't know," I said.

"No, I'm sorry, I don't think I can help you. Maybe you wait a little longer?"

Like I had a choice.

The next fifteen minutes, the fifteen minutes until someone actually did show up, that's the memory I'd like to take with me to eternity.

In that time, I felt so, I don't know, helpless, confused, scared, hopeless, but at the same time, alive. I know that most people say they feel most alive when they have a near-death experience, or when they scale some incredible mountain, or they watch their first child born. Those things haven't happened to me yet, but this one quarter of an hour at some random airport, I was completely alone. And I had no idea what would happen next. And I had no prospects. No way of surviving, even though I had cash in my pocket. In a lot of ways, I felt I was at a major crossroads in life. If no one came, how would I act? If I couldn't rely on anyone, would I be able to rely on myself?

I have never really felt those things again. The eleven years that have passed since that day have flown by, without a single moment I'd like to take with me to eternity. (Oh, hell, that's wrong in a lot of ways--there have been many, many amazing moments, experiences, days, and even weeks. But nothing that almost caused a complete circuit failure in the thing I call my brain.)

So, yeah. I want to recapture that feeling ...

7 comments:

d'gman said...

CAST AS AN EXTRA - So yesterday I was informed that I would be a 'volunteer' chaperone in the latest bit of political theatre being performed by our school district. Thousands of students and hundreds of teachers will be bussed to Soldier Field to serve as the backdrop for our leaders' play for state funding. I will be one of the dots on that backdrop.
Ludicrous politics aside, I have shit to do! The year winding down, grades to be entered, a classroom to pack up and I have to spend the day ushered around having to explain to the forced student volunteers why they can't do something more meaningful during one of their last days of school. Like playing Uno with friends.
So this is not the memory I would like to take into eternity. (I'll have to complete the exercise by process of elimintation: 1 down.)

appopt said...

I refused to go ...

but dozens of teachers and about 150 students at my school were somehow roped into going.

Bill said...

I moved to China for two years, also not speaking the language. I thought I'd have a lot of solitary time, which would lead to me writing a book or an opera or something. Turned you a little different.
When the time came to leave, I had told people to meet me at a bar. I taught my last class, then a mob of former students pourred in to say goodbye. We talked, took photos, and hung out for an hour or so. Then I was taken to the bar. More people were waiting. The love I felt was unlike anything else I've experienced.

jenska said...

Hmmm. As tempting as that sounds, I've been trying my hardest to AVOID circuit failure.

Wouldn't you rather take this image with you to eternity?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/plonka/2569958522/

It'll be in my top ten for sure.

Anonymous said...

is that what i think it is?! very cute mister P. very cute.

Anonymous said...

That's a simple and consciously intended experience. Definately one that might help take a leap of faith- yet eternity is changeless.
-DS

Smarry said...

I moved to China for two years, also not speaking the language. I thought I'd have a lot of solitary time, which would lead to me writing a book or an opera or something. Turned you a little different.

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