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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Rivers of Experience

"Nothing has changed, but it feels so strange. I can't quite put my finger on it. Everything looks the same, but it feels different."

Chris Brinlee, Jr.

That is exactly what I was feeling last week about Tokyo. Everything about it was familiar - the shops, the streets, the subway - and at the same time everything was off.

Because Tokyo had changed in eight years and so had I. When I left Japan nearly a decade ago I pulled myself out of one moving river and dived into another halfway across the world. And while I was gone the city and the people I knew moved on and became a different city and different people.

And part of me was not happy about it. At all.

This is not the first time I've felt this eerie combination of familiar mixed with strange. Returning to Seattle a few years after I had moved to France,  I flew in from Paris to the local airport and my brother drove me into town. When I saw that they had torn down a large sports stadium that had been a prominent part of the city skyline since I was a small child, I was filled with such rage. "How dare they do that," I thought, as though Seattle were a part of my personal patrimoine and the denizens needed my permission before they so much as clipped a hedge or painted a wall. Even now, as irrational as it sounds, I deeply resent any changes to my hometown.

But life is a moving river of experience and the harder you try to make things stand still, the more they slip through your fingers. The moment you trap the water in your mind, it ceases to be the real river and becomes still water in a plastic jug.

Nothing that lives and breathes is static, not even our own insignificant precious little selves. Not only do we live in moving rivers, but the "I" itself is one. Next time I head for Tokyo, I resolve to accept it as the city it is in 2015, and not resent it for ceasing to be the city it was in 2007. And I will try to accept as well that I am not the person I was eight years ago.

Clearly, I need the practice because while I am dipping my toes in the waters of another dynamic city, Osaka, another place - the city of Versailles where I have my home and my beloved garden - is moving merrily along without me. And when we return in a few years, the things and people I knew will be as off to me then as Tokyo was just last week.

Flophouse Garden, Versailles, France. April 2015
Photo by Michael Staubes

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