“But memories are time beings, too, like cherry blossoms or ginkgo leaves; for a while they are beautiful, and then they fade and die.”
― Ruth Ozeki,
A couple of years ago, I read a book titled A Tale for the Time Being. The book was unassuming, part of my world reading project, and I picked it so I could tick off Canada and Japan from the list. A Tale for the Time Being* is the kind of book that I want everyone to read, hold stacks of it on the sidewalk, and just give them out like flyers as an act of social pressure that says “Read it”.
The book is set in two timelines, in two countries. One half of the book is set in Japan where a teenage schoolgirl is narrating the story of her life. This half is a diary entry of Nao who begins the story by saying that once she has finished writing about her short life, she will kill herself. The other half of the book is set in Canada where a novelist stays on an island with her environment-conscious husband and one day, on the seashore she finds Nao’s diary packed in a plastic bag with a Hello Kitty lunchbox. Told alternatingly, the book is mostly about Nao, the bullying she faces at school, the exploration of her feelings, her clinically depressed father, and her grandmother who lives on a mountain. If I could urge any of you to read just this one half of the book, this is it.
Many parts of the book appealed to the human in me, as a reader, not a writer. But the part that stuck with me most is where Nao discusses how her dad came to be clinically depressed and what caused him to want to take his own life while she reflects on her own death. It is poignant when a teenager contemplates the end of her life in light of her father’s mental health juxtaposed against the Zen wisdom of her grandmother. I found it particularly moving when she writes about how her dad grapples with his work situation and his mind is now playing tricks on him. The greatest take away from this enormously humane story is that, as humans, whatever we might believe in or not believe in, we must take care of our minds. If there is any loyalty humans have, it is to the master sitting between our ears. And all those stories about what to feed our minds in order to grow them as the garden we possess are all cheesy but they’re all true.
“It made me sad when I caught myself pretending that everybody out there in cyberspace cared about what I thought, when really nobody gives a shit. And when I multiplied that sad feeling by all the millions of people in their lonely little rooms, furiously writing and posting to their lonely little pages that nobody has time to read because they’re all so busy writing and posting, it kind of broke my heart.”
― Ruth Ozeki,
Every time things start to get overwhelming, I think about A Tale for the Time Being. So, for instance, as the last three weeks have been draining, I consider re-reading the book but then I binge on Gilmore Girls on Netflix. (Jess is a piece of crap.) All these days, I’ve been overthinking everything, having weird dreams, not sleeping well, and generally being very antsy. Although there is no need to, one buys into the general self-inflicting anxiety that comes with living in the 21st century. I’ve been wondering about how feeding all this worry to my brain could have unsavoury consequences and that I should probably get my shit together. Of course, I exaggerate because like Seneca said we suffer more in imagination than in reality. The past bunch of days have been full of wildly different obsessions but the truth is that there have been so many, many redeeming graces.
When I’m being hard on myself I think of what I believe in. I ask myself — in what giant vessel of generosity and kindness can I place my faith? In what medium of mercy and wisdom can I trust? Where is that altar of forgiveness and benevolence where all of us can place our hearts? And after all this time, after all this living, I’ve come to the conclusion that all this is found in the people we share our lives with.
I know it sounds foolhardy to place one’s faith in people. But there is no other tangible proof of God that I’ve found, yet. And your girl, dear readers, has become this deeply sceptical person who can’t believe in something she can’t see. All this despite my conflicting certainty that there is magic the world that we don’t understand. I am sure that there is wisdom in the obscure and the hard to reach. And that we must never ever come to a place where we understand everything, know everything because that will take the fun out of living.
“The important thing was that we were being polite and not saying all the things that were making us unhappy, which was the only way we knew how to love each other.”
― Ruth Ozeki,
I used to know someone who spent an inordinate amount of time convincing me that we were all alone and that one had to learn to give up on people, live by oneself. It’s attractive, right? All this solipsism and rejecting people to spin on your own self-absorbed axis? Fuck, no. It is not. I considered this acceptance of living in a silo and being unattached to people around us for a long time and now I publicly call bullshit on it. Wherever I see, I find it very overwhelming how much people tend to care. There’s this indescribable tenacity to humans and their power of caring for each other. I get amazed by our ability to touch each others’ lives every passing day.
I’ve seen a person reach out for help and so many others extend their love and kindness to the person. I’ve seen a person utter a small desire and so many others conspire (literally) to make it happen. I open my inboxes, group chats, forums to find kind words and encouragement for others. I meet people and see how they’ve spent even a fraction of their day thinking about what a friend needs. And how much it means to the person in question. This world is full of the indefatigable nature of human care and effort. It is full of people who believe in you when you don’t. Of people who hold out the light for you when you cannot. We have a way of getting so caught up in our own heads that we don’t see it.
It’s so easy to fall for the negative talk, for the propaganda, and swallow doubt. And to me, it seems like every day is a battle within our minds to push away the coagulation of fear and tiredness we have come to make commonplace in our lives. And I wonder where all this comes from? Maybe it comes from our own minds, the words we tend to type out but never say aloud, the words we think but never utter. They say telling has a way of dispersing things, and it behoves us to pay heed to the old adage.
Of course, like TFB says, not everything needs to be said aloud. And he’s got a point there. But writing this is not to encourage a slew of incomprehensible ramblings. It is to acknowledge that when you reflect on it, we’re not really as alone as we think we are. And it’s unbelievable how much your people will love you only if you let them.
Words and minds and people are magic. And so are you.
“Live. For Now. For the time being.”
― Ruth Ozeki,
*I’m assuming DF also had something to do with me reading this book but I can’t recall it now. I say this because it is a book for life and DF is a part of every book I’ve read that changed my life in its small, eddying ways.