ulia, a friend of mine, had a Japanese exchange student visit for the summer.
At first, he was excited. He ferried to the Statue of Liberty, he looked out from the Empire State Building snapping photos. He spent late nights roaming the bright lights of Times Square and drinking beer in the hip East Village. But after the first frenetic month, he grew depressed. He didn’t want to go out. He lay on his bed and looked at the ceiling.
After he couldn’t seem to shake it on his own, my friend stepped in.
“What’s going on?” she asked him. “You don’t seem very happy.”
“Well,” he replied hesitantly. “When I left Osaka, I dreamed of a new life.”
“Yes,” my friend said listening.
“I wanted a change. I thought if I came to New York my life would be different.”
“What kind of change were you expecting?” Julia asked.
“I’m not sure, but I was tired of my life back home. It’s odd to say this, but it’s really not that different here. I thought a new country would change me, but it hasn’t.”
The ceiling seemed to close in on him as he spoke.
Julia took a deep breath before replying.
“Life is life,” she said.
He was unmoved, silent.
“What do you mean? I don’t get it.” He said finally.
Julia continued, “Let’s face it. Much of our day is the same no matter where we live. I’m sure Japan and the States have big differences, but maybe not as many as you expected.”
“Yeah…” he replied.
“For instance, everyone basically has the same morning. New Yorkers get up and shower, brush their teeth, drink coffee, maybe tea. We make breakfast, or grab it, and eat. We read the news headlines, or at least the weather report. We pick out what to wear and set out for the commute to school or work. If you’re in Osaka, it’s some variation of that. Am I right?”
“Yeah, pretty much. I guess.”
Julia continued. “Then there’s the school or work routine. You take classes until lunchtime. In New York, I answer emails, meet with clients, do my office work. At lunch, we both break and eat again. You eat rice and fish; I eat a sandwich. In the afternoon we work or study, and then commute home. Maybe in a car, on a bus or a train.”
“I ride my bike,” he inserted.
“Okay, you ride your bike. Still, not much difference. We prepare food, eat it, and clean up. New Yorkers eat out a lot. Still, it’s just eating. Then it’s about 8 p.m., give or take. Agreed?”
“About that, yeah.”
“We have a small window at night to read or watch TV, be with our mate or our children. You may hang out with your friends. Then it’s back to the toothbrush, the bed — and the pattern repeats. Japan or the U.S. It’s the same.”
He was quiet but digesting.
“I think that’s it,” he said popping up from the bed. “I basically do the same stuff here as I do at home. The sights are different, but once you see them, then it’s routine. How can a person change their life if it’s just one big long routine?”
Julie sat back and thought for a minute. A mental file of self-help books and guru-like advice flipped through her mind. She’d read more than a few.
“The best advice I’ve ever gotten is to think about a perfect day. Your perfect day, what would be magical for you?”
“I don’t get it,” he said.
“For me, I love to ride horses but I never do. My perfect day would be waking up on an early summer day in the country. From my bedroom window I see rolling hills and smell the stables. I’d shower with lavender soap, eat thick white toast and jam for breakfast with a poached egg. Then I’d head to the stables, groom my favorite stallion and saddle up. I’d take off across the countryside and ride the day away. I’d bring a lunch of French cheese, a baguette and figs. I’d sit under a tree with my horse having my picnic, and then take a small nap. On the way home, I’d watch the sun set with a spectacular orange display and I’d come home to a dinner of roast duck and watercress salad. I could go on but you get the drift.”
“Yeah, that sounds like a great day. But how is that one day going to change your life? It’s just a dream day after all.”
“The trick,” Julia continued, “is to insert as much of that perfect day into my everyday routine. It doesn’t take much to have toast and jam for breakfast and poach an egg. I could do that. And buying some lavender soap would really make my morning showers sweet. I don’t have the time or the means to own a horse but I could make a point to go riding once a month on a Saturday.”
“I like this idea he said,” considering what his perfect day might include. “But still, I’m not sure it’d change me.”
“Perhaps not completely, but who knows. You’re still young,” she said smiling, leaving him to his thoughts.
“But in the end, I must repeat. Life is life.”