Every conscious moment you have is a tragic emergency nesting a miraculous joy
Japan has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the industrialized world. There is a level of communal harmony here in Kuma County that I have never seen anywhere else. I’m sure there is elsewhere around the world, but I never saw it in America. Murders here in Kuma County are very rare. I can only think of two plus one question mark in the thirteen years I have lived here.
About two years ago, an internet stalker from outside Kuma lured a high school girl out and murdered her. Before that, about seven or eight years ago, the question mark happened. An elderly woman disappeared from her home and wandered off at night. Now that alone would be dangerous and tragic enough. But the police did find some evidence of a hit and run. There are rumors that someone hit her with a car, didn’t want to pay the repercussions, and hid her body in the inhospitable mountains that surround the county. No one actually knows anything though. Before that, more than a decade ago, a man murdered his mother for her refusal to accept his girlfriend.
Suicide happens here. Domestic violence also happens but that’s being fixed with a steadily rising divorce rate. (I’m one of those people who sees a rising divorce rate as a very good thing. “Yeah! Divorce!”) Armed robbery is almost unheard of here. In fact, I literally have never heard of an armed robbery here in thirteen years. That doesn’t mean it’s never happened though. Burglary also. Fatal traffic accidents are incredibly rare because the speed limit is really slow compared to America. The speed limit in residential areas is 40 kilometers per hour.
But even in a place like this, one of the safest places I can think of, I am still going to die, my wife is going to die, my son is going to die. It doesn’t matter how safe we make a place, we cannot change that important fact. Not only that, our end can come at any time. We don’t even get the luxury of thinking, “Yes, I’ll die. But not yet. There’s still time.” There’s no time. On the news this morning, we watched through the video camera of a bus as an oncoming car crashed through the guard rail, flipped, flew through the air, and crashed right into the windshield of the bus killing two and injuring a dozen or so. All in the space of a three seconds. Happy, talking, snoozing… crash, dead. A police man in Fukuoka murdered his wife and two children. He tried to cover it up and make it look like a murder suicide but they caught him. Everyone thought they were such a happy family…
That’s the kind of thought that keeps me awake some nights. That feeling of utter helplessness. That we can only do our best and that isn’t nearly good enough.
This awareness has changed me, though. A good friend of mine wrote that every moment is like a burning house. I like that idea. I wrote above that every moment of consciousness is a tragic emergency. All our relationships will come to nothing. All our happiness will turn to dust and ash. All our accomplishments will be forgotten and our great grandchildren will struggle to remember our name.
But that doesn’t make me despair. That gives me tremendous motivation for awe. It makes the joy I experience that much greater. It makes the relationships I have even more precious. Because they won’t last, I have to hold on to them every second I can. And surprisingly, it’s enough. I am less patient with nonsense. I end toxic relationships quicker. I stop and look around me more. I breathe. Breathe. Really breathe. Purposeful breath. Knowing that oblivion will call does not lead me to despair but rather makes each moment that much more important.
This is my now, and I won’t miss it.
In my limited experience, Kuma County is one of the best places on Earth a person can live. It enjoys the wealth of one of the most powerful economies in the world. It enjoys peace and safety. People live well and fully. They support each other. The food is amazing and the shochu is strong. All that provides a framework for a person to focus on the things that truly matter: this now and what joy holds.
I wish this joy, this now, for anyone reading this.
Be, Live, Stand.