a little east of reality

Thursday, August 24, 2006

holding patterns

The usual format of a scrapbooking class is that you learn some new techniques (eg tonight's array included walnut inking to simulate aging of the paper, etc) and then you use the photos you've brought to create a double page spread, hopefully (but not necessarily) incorporating something you've just learned.

I'd forgotten all about this until ten minutes before I had to be there and so ended up grabbing the first reasonable group of photos I laid hands on before running out the door.

The photos were of one of my farewell parties when I left Japan. This particular dinner was courtesy of the little group of older ladies whose English Circle I'd helped run for about eight months. They took me to the most expensive and traditional Japanese restaurant I've ever experienced. All of the food looked like art. We also had a huge baked fish completely encased in a hard salt shell about half an inch thick. The waiter opened it at the table by hitting it with a hammer! It was a fun night. I thought about how surprised they would be if I turned up at their circle night on my next trip to Japan.

I spread the photos out on the table, looking at all their faces, when it suddenly hit me - one person in the photo, Yoshiko-san, was no longer there to visit. She took a trip to Alaska to visit her daughter, Shima, about two weeks after I left Japan. She wanted to see what her daughter did at work and accompanied her on a mail run in the little twin-engine plane that Shima piloted. They crashed in open waters and their bodies were never found. This happened about three weeks after the photo was taken. We had talked about the upcoming trip at that same farewell dinner. She was really excited about going, because she hadn't seen her daughter for over two years.

As if that had not reminded me enough that life is short and unpredictable, today the strangest coincidence brought the point home again. I'd taken a phone message for my workmate late yesterday. This morning he came over to my desk:

"You know the Chris who phoned yesterday?"


"He died last night."

"He died? Really?"

"Yep. Heart attack."

One minute he's just living a normal day, then he's gone. Same with Yoshiko. She must have been so excited to watch her daughter piloting the plane ~ something Shima had done week after week for two years without mishap. Then suddenly they are in danger and finally crash. It brought to mind other unexpected deaths: my close friend Darren, shot during a senseless argument outside a bar when he was nineteen; a lecturer's wife who died instantly when an aneurysm she was unaware of ruptured in her brain. She had been out at a staff dinner earlier that night, apparently fine and having a good time. They were a pretty shell-shocked group the next morning.

And so it goes. Life really is that fragile and it sometimes takes precious little to end it. I'm not sure what I think about that. Should it influence how I live? I have a certain amount of existentialist verve, but in my experience thinking only of today has led more to debt than to celebration of life. Occasionally I've managed to combine the two. I don't want to die, but I'm not afraid of it either. Of course ask me again when I'm crashing into the ocean off the shore of Alaska and you might get a different answer. It does make me want to stop wasting time and get on with some personal projects I've had on the boil for a while now.

I'm not sure how to end this post, and it's not about being profound. I just found myself pondering this idea that life could end suddenly and without warning. Sometimes we wait a really long time before doing things we need to do, want to do, should do. We behave as if we know how long we will live and it's a long, long, time. And I'm not going to look at some old photos and then go running through the streets yelling "Carpe diem, dammit!" at every person who just doesn't seem to taking it all seriously enough. But maybe there's stuff I've waited long enough on.