Friday, November 23, 2007


I saw a teenage student sleeping on the train the other day. A teenage boy, standing up. Leaning against the door as the carriage richocheted through the night. He was wearing a dark blue suit with bright gold buttons lining the front from stern to collar, the standard uniform of Japanese adolescents across the country, a lingering remnant of the Prussian army's influence on the orient. As he slept, being swayed this way and that way by the gentle but insistent rocking of the train, I thought: He's going to miss his stop. He' standing, but he's sleeping, and he's going to miss his stop. I was sure of it. But then, only moments later, the train stopped, and the boy's eyes popped open, and he stumbled out the door, bag in hand, jacket tucked tight. I'd underestimated him. He'd known all along where he was going, and when he would get there. He knew his path, and what was expected of him to stay on its course. I saw something that was not true, without his awareness, and believed it to be so. Suddenly I felt smaller, and wondered what unseen stranger might be watching me right now the same way I'd just watched this boy, and forming similar certainties about my life based on a casual, superficial glance. I looked at everyone around me and realized I knew none of them, nor could even guess at their depths. We were all separate but united by our walls. And the fallibility of my own judgements suddenly felt like a tonic, like cold water swabbed gently on a warm forehead.

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