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It’s a Huge World, After All

Mary asked me what about me had changed as a result of my trip around the world. You know how you look up at the stars of the Cosmos in a dark, country sky? And you think about the uncountable numbers of stars in the sky, light shining from millions of years in the past, and you just can’t get a grasp on it, so you let it slide? Well, now I see our humble little planet in that way, only I can’t let it slide.

Our own little human world is so big, and vast, just the human part! The part that speaks a thousand different languages, and lives anywhere from hunting in the forest to scavenging from Tokyo convenience stores. Walking, running, subways, minibuses, broken-down old cars, city buses, interurbans, shinkansen, airplanes, ferries, Porsches. Most people are very poor, and a few of us are quite wealthy, and the spread in between is such that it is nearly impossible for anyone near either end of the economic scale to understand the lifestyle of those opposite.

But unlike the vastness of the Cosmos, we can’t let the vastness of the human world slide. We are all human. None of us should be going without food, none of us should be unable to find a place to sleep at night, anyone of us should be able to be treated for medical problems.

We need to learn to communicate with each other … all these languages! We should each learn a few, make friends with people whose existence and culture are far away from our own. An American in the car suburbs of California ought to be able to dig the lifestyle of a Bushman, who ought to be able to dig the lifestyle of a service worker in Italy, who ought to be able to dig that a kid in Afghanistan balances selling newspapers on the streets to support his family with getting to school to realize his dream of literacy, and that kid ought to be able to chat with a technology worker in Tokyo.

And these days, the world just seems blurry to me. I walk around America digging it like it was another foreign country, even though it is also my home, the place where people share my cultural heritage and speak the same language, the place where I am most readily understood and understand without great difficulty. But I don’t know what I want. I’m floating along. A few years ago when I was floating along in the dot-com bubble, living large on the well-paid tech frontier, the idea was pretty clear: work hard, live life, get rich. Recently it has been seek work, get afloat, look forward to paying off debts.

But I still live life. I can’t go without my daily trip to a coffee shop to read the paper. And even if I’m poor I still tip better than most. You gotta have your Confucian rituals and personal code of honor. And even if I lose these bits of my lifestyle, there will be other things that I will find in my shrinking Universe to call my own, to mark my Self.

Work went pretty well today. Then I grabbed myself a haircut, at long last. I bought some soap, I called Rachel while walking down Green Street to check up on her.

And then I got an e-mail from dad.

We don’t communicate so well, so regularly. We have so much in common but we live different lives, far apart.

Grandma had surgery. They pulled out a tumor. But she has more. Six months left to what has been a long, healthy life, with three kids and four grandchildren. Dad’s coming through on his way from Colorado in early May. Maybe I can ride up to Michigan with him.

At first, I was glad that fate had brought me to the Midwest at this time. Then I thought of the scheduling challenges at the job. It is a decent job, but nothing I wouldn’t easily sacrifice if it came to that. The student employees peel away in May, and another full-timer is leaving next week to help her mom raise a new baby. I got frustrated and upset that now I finally have a job, I may have to screw the boss over.

But I know things will work out, one way or another. I’ve got to keep on surfing along the currents of fate in any case, its not like any of us have so much choice about the fundamental things of life anyway. We’ll all do what we have to.

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