times they are a’changin’

A lot happened yesterday, but I think that the most important thing was at the very end: the long discussion Evan and I had about our future. We have both decided that I will not be re-contracting with the Japanese Exchange Teaching Program (JET) for a fifth year, and so we will be leaving Fukuoka in August 2018.

Right now I feel a little bit like a goldfish that’s become too big for it’s bowl, and I need more space to swim around in. My role as Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) is beginning to plateau. I don’t feel like there’s anything left for me to learn as an ALT. These days I simply pass the time and get through work until my next big trip abroad or new experience here in Japan. Now that all those places and experiences on my list have been getting crossed out though… What do I have to look forward to? And is there anything actually tying me to this place any more?

After close to three years of teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), Evan and I are both able to say that it is not where our passions lie. It isn’t that we don’t love the people or the kids, or that we’ve grown tired of Japan, and we aren’t jaded exactly. We’ve just both come to realize that we have more to give to the world, and that we want more in return as well. What do I mean by “more”? Neither of us are really sure.

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for alex

Last week a friend of mine told me that a guy we knew from college was in intensive care for some sort of illness. She had seen people posting stuff about it and tagging him on Facebook. I felt a bit sorry about it, but the vagueness of it all, on top of the fact that I’m not even actually friends with him on Facebook myself sort of pushed it out of my mind. This morning I woke up to a message from that same friend saying that the guy had had cardiac arrest during a running workout and that he has been unresponsive ever since. So his family is taking him off life support.

I met Alex my freshman year in University. He lived down the hall from me. He was tall and lanky with long brown hair and a wide smile. He loved hiking and nature, ultimate frisbee and running. I didn’t really get to know him very well, and clearly we didn’t keep in touch after college. But he was kind, asked really thoughtful questions, and always seemed able to make genuine space for you in his life no matter where he was or what he was doing. He had a gentleness about him that was really warming.

One of my clearest memories of him is how he had only one bowl and one spoon that entire first year I knew him. He explained that the only thing he ever used it for was his cereal in the morning, and that after every bowl he would lick it completely clean and put it up again, without ever washing it with soap and water. When my then-roommate and I heard this we were scandalized and accused him of being gross. He wasn’t offended. He just laughed and thrust that bowl toward us, which made us dodge out of the way to avoid touching it, and as far as I know he went on doing it. He was quirky like that.

It seems to me like a terribly dark cosmic joke that Alex was struck lifeless during a run. Something about that burns and makes me angry. He was a strong and healthy young man, only 31 years old. I am sad to see him go, but not nearly as sad as the family and close friends who couldn’t even say goodbye. It’s all such a tragedy.

The suddenness of death has felt too close and too familiar lately. Maybe it is cliche to say so, but moments like these really make you stop and ruminate on your own mortality. Have I told the people I care about how much I love them recently? Is there a way I can be a better version of myself? How will people remember me when I die? Am I really making the best of all the things my life has to offer?

I want to thank Alex for being a good person, a person I will remember with fondness and respect, and for reminding me not to take life for granted.