1.

They were sitting at the Shanghai airport, an infinite room or steel and curved ceilings. It was spacious, open, contemporary.

“I’m telling you dude.”

“What?”

“You gotta stay. You gotta! You just have no idea, do you?”

“Oh, I do. I mean, I’ll stay, I’ll fall in love like I always do, and then I’ll go on.”

“Telling you, you don’t have the stomach to do that. If you fall in love, you’re done for. Dude, I know you. When you fall in love, that’s it. All bets are off. I’ve just been trying to prepare you for that contingency, that’s all. You know you’re going to fall in love. You know it!”

“Look, I know where you’re coming from, but there’s no way I can plan on that. Any number of things can happen.”

“Do you have any idea how long it’s taken us to get you back to Japan? This is no mere travel stop. We’ve been working like dogs to get you here. You knew it even when you were in the monastery, you were going back to Japan. We all knew it. We were just trying to get you back there.

It has nothing to do with who you fall in love with. This happened before you ever even met your current love interest, and we know full well that things may not work out with you two. Your love interest is Japan. The strangeness of it, the mystery of it. It makes you come alive, and you will.

You even asked for a second chance. You knew you would be back. It took an incredible amount of work. It’s finally time, don’t you get that?”

“Maybe it’s the jet lag, but no, not really. I mean this is a really cool opportunity. And I get the excitement of Japan, I *really* do. Trust me on that. And I may fall in love all over again. I even hope so. Maybe I’m counting on that too. But it’s about more than that. It’s about growth.”

“Growth? That’s disgusting.”

“If I do this thing in Banglamar, it’s going to set me up good for a new career. Not just as a teacher/slacker, but as a real bonafide grown-up.”

“Ah Jesus dude! You were born to be a teacher/slacker! That’s the whole point of leading the life you lead. There’s no need to ever go beyond that, because you’ve realized that to be happy and enjoy life is all there is! No work necessary to it. Anything else is just you-know-who talking through you.”

“You talk hard about this, I can tell it’s something you really care about.”

“I mean…I’m not trying to deceive you here. Just trying to be as accurate as possible, trying to be as true to ourselves as we can be. You LOVE Japan, I’ve never seen someone pour out as much love for that place as you do.”

“Oh there are plenty of people who pour out the love for it, I can assure you.”

“Alright fine. There are many many people that love Japan. Dime a dozen. No doubt about it. But I’m trying to make you see that it’s not just for superficial reasons. You have a sense of belonging there, a shared appreciation for their mentality, a rare understanding of it. To be in Japan, to *love* being in Japan, is to participate in that mentality that you work so well in.

And there may be attempts to break you outside of it, like somehow it’s just not good enough to go there. Like somehow, you have to become a bigger person by doing this or that. To be more successful, accomplished, grown up.”

“Let me just say that it’s not only about ‘being a grown up’. I already get that, to an extent. It’s about expanding horizons, building skills that could actually help me when I do return to Japan. Believe me, I will. When I go there, when I *stay* there, I want to do it in a way that matters.”

“You’re trying to plan for the long haul.”

“Yes, absolutely.”

They stared out the long windows at the flat horizon and the planes lumbering across the tarmac. A loud clap of thunder sealed the moment.

“See, god wink!” Adam said with a grin.

“Sure.”

“I think you just do this for the honor of getting to talk to me,” he said, putting his hands behind his head and stretching his legs.

“No, you’re absolutely right,” Em said. “I love just having these conversations, they’re so much fun.”

“Hah, if you say so. Well, you’ve officially worn me out, I’ll say that. There’s not really anything more I can offer, and I don’t mean that in a cynical way. I mean to say that you’ve helped me see that I have my own assumptions about this that I have to look into.”

“Say what? I didn’t think you were the type to offer anything other than your opinion.”

“Hah, well, maybe I’ve grown up a little too. It’s just no fun trying to offer a one-sided opinion if I wasn’t open to influence and change. In your language, we’re dynamic people capable of growth.

Maybe I’m starting to see that I’ve held on to this strong belief in getting back to Japan for so long that I haven’t seen, understood the ways that you and I have changed in the process. It’s true, we’ve both experienced so much. We live in a wider world than we did two years ago, and maybe I’ve just been trying to get us back as if nothing else has happened.”

Em was almost taken aback. “Well I can definitely understand the excitement. It’s been almost *three years* since we’ve been back. And in that time, there’s been a lot of guilt about even going back to a place we love so much. And in that time, there has been a lot of study and appreciation of Japanese things, philosophy, art, language, food. It really is like our second home country.

Maybe that’s why I feel so strongly that no matter how much time passes, it will be there for us. Like we could be gone 5 years, 10 years, and when we finally do get to a place where we can just be there for the right reasons, we’ll be in an even better position not just to soak it up as a visitor, but to contribute.”

“Damn dude, you are noble, anyone ever tell you that? Or at least you try to be.”

“We live in this world where things are so much bigger than I thought they would be when I was a kid. I mean, when I was college age, even staying in Japan wasn’t a possibility for me. My dreams, our dreams, kept getting bigger, expanding past what we thought possible. And so here’s this dream of going there again, coming true! And yet even now, there are bigger dreams.”

“Oh yeah? Do tell.”

“I want to live in a world where Japan, and the south, and the other countries I go to are all a part of the picture. I want to live in a world where I can get an *awesome* education, and the opportunity to really be something more, a professor. There is no reason why I can’t.

It’s a bigger dream than I thought possible, because no one told me I could do it when I was younger. It’s a bigger dream than I thought possible because I’ve had so many failed experiences along the way that it’s actually very difficult to believe I can do it. Or there’s any number of doubts, like the notion that I’m getting older, and I’d better settle into my ways, etc.

I swear, it feels sometimes like my thirties are forming this inevitable wall around me. It’s subtle, but I can feel it. And maybe because that perception is there, it takes more effort to press against it. To say, ‘you know what? No! I don’t care what age I am, it is still possible to learn, grow, and discover new horizons.’”

“Indomitable spirit. You really are Japanese.”

“Sou desu ne.”