|View today from my office window: fresh blossoms on the windowsill and a flurry of fat snowflakes cloak bare cherry trees across the school parking lot.|
First, there’s the kind of loneliness when you’re walking through a bustling market, a busy school building, or a crowded street and everyone you pass stops to say hello, how are you, something-something-something, something-else-you-didn’t-catch, and one-more-thing-you-didn’t-understand. This kind of loneliness is tricky because you’re surrounded by kindness. People smile or bow or hug you or “cheek-to-cheek” kiss you or give you food, but all you can think of are your mom’s warm words of reassurance, your dad’s rough hugs, your sister’s inside jokes, or your other sister’s long, winding stories.
Then there’s the kind of loneliness where everyone is twittering about--mothers on park benches swapping child rearing advice as their toddlers inspect bugs in a dirty puddle; men in suits clutching briefcases, bee lining through turnstiles toward closing train doors; coworkers attempting to discreetly hover over your shoulder to see what you’re reading at your office desk; old ladies muttering to their selves as they decipher bus routes at the bus terminal. At any given moment, a dozen people are milling about and chattering around you and yet, somehow, you haven’t spoken a single word aloud in four entire hours. Passing strangers glance at you and wonder if you’re a foreigner, others notice you and know you’re a foreigner (though you never quite know what you’re doing wrong to stick out like a missed strand after a fresh haircut), still others hardly discern you from the fire hydrant you lean on, but no one bothers you. You're alone. You feel like an invisible circle with a .5-meter radius is drawn around you, and right now, you’re nothing more than a small, black pupil at dead-center of an infected pink eye, observing, recording.
And there’s the kind of loneliness when you're at home, locked up and away from whatever country lies on the other side of your closed hotel room door, guest bedroom window, or friend's Tokyo apartment floor space. Tonight, your countryside dorm-like apartment door is your barricade. This is a quieter kind of loneliness, the kind where five hours pass and you’ve read a book, and wrote, and updated your blog, and surfed the web through pages and pages of, well, crap, in utter and complete and total silence.
You decide to make instant ramen for dinner, so you go into the kitchen, where the silence that once surrounded you slowly lifts and grows and becomes the hum of the refrigerator and you wonder why it’s taken you so long to notice the breathy drone, this roar and its shouting match with the buzzing ceiling light. You hastily prepare your dinner for one and you can’t be bothered to add anything more than dehydrated noodles and soup powder to your over-sized cup of hot water, which you poured from an electric kettle that’s always plugged in and always half-empty. You want someone to dine with, something to talk to, and the other side of the world, the side with your friends and family and everything and everyone you know, sleeps on because it’s 4 a.m. their time. So you saunter back to your nest of blankets in your dark living room, take a seat at your table for one at the glow of your computer screen, gingerly slurp salty, but otherwise tasteless noodles, and press "play" to start a re-run of Community. It's 8 p.m. You settle in for a marathon of Season 2 shows and watch episode after episode until you're tired enough to fall straight sleep on your futon on the tatami floor without too many thoughts of being alone intruding your restless mind.
But there’s also solitude. Solitude is a different color from loneliness, but like loneliness, it comes in many shades.
There's the kind of solitude when it's early evening and you have an hour of daylight left, so you grab your camera and go for a walk in your neighborhood cemetery because cemeteries were always your second favorite place to be in the world, no matter what kind of cemetery, and you snap pictures of freshly fallen snow on head stones, snow-blanketed statues of deities, and frozen offerings of oranges, cans of coffee, and incense. Your hands are cold stiff because you forgot your gloves at home. Your insides are cold, too, because darkness is falling, there's not a single living soul in sight, you're in a maze of tombs, and it just started snowing again. You love the tantalizing feel of every hair on your body on high alert for lost spirits who still haunt their graves. You're alone... you hope.
And there's the kind of solitude when you’re walking along the beach of the Philippine Sea, or the Sea of Japan, or the Pacific Ocean, or the Indian Ocean, or the Gulf of Mexico, or the Caribbean Sea, just you, the water, the sand, and the sun or the moon, and you look out to the horizon and wonder what’s out there across the wide expanse, and you look back towards land and wonder what’s out there, within the near expanse. You feel alone. You wonder if you’re the only one awake in the world, if you’re the only one existing in the world right now, in this moment, and you hope you are; you hope that you have all of God’s attention and that you have all of the world at your feet, just for you, all for you. But you know it’s not true, you know there are others out there, somewhere, and you’re excited to find out, eager to set out--not necessarily to learn, and definitely not to remember all of what you learn--but eager to set out to experience something new with others like you and so very different from you.
And there’s that kind of solitude when everyone in the club knows how to rumba but you, everyone at the dinner table knows how to make a temaki but you, everyone at the izakaya patiently waits ‘til the last person is poured alcohol before taking a sip while you sheepishly wipe a stolen drop of white sake from your lip; but you, you don’t feel embarrassed, you feel honored to be experiencing it all and to be the only one in the room who doesn’t know quite what to do.
And there’s the kind of solitude in knowing that nobody in the world has quite the same combination of experiences and places traveled and languages spoken as you. You confidently believe that you can relate a small part of yourself with anyone on the street, on any street, but also believe that no one in the world can relate to every part of you.
And the kind of solitude when you book a trip to Australia or Malaysia by yourself because you know you can travel there, to and around, all by yourself, because you’ve done it before, because no one else can go or wants to go, but you can’t help it, you go anyway and you wait for no one because something inside of you is telling you that you have to go. Besides, you figure, you’ll make new friends along the way.
And the kind of solitude in which you sit for hours writing, not wanting to be bothered, and you have five more hours of day left stretching ahead of you to do nothing but write, and the snow is falling in fat flakes out your window, and the words are flowing through your fingertips faster than the snow is melting off the freshly bloomed, too-early cherry blossoms, so you type and you type, and in that moment, you need no one, you want no one, because you are your own, self-sufficient person who has her own life figured out if not forever then at least for those few, sacred hours.
And, well… living abroad can be kind of lonely sometimes. But these moments are colors I add to my palette with the hope of better illustrating my tales of adventure in foreign landscapes.