The 3-11 earthquake and Fukushima incident didn’t just prompt us to leave Japan before I’d been able to complete enough research to write a dissertation. It also gave me an entirely new value system.
I’m sure anyone who feels they have brushed with death will agree that the most important things in life seem a lot clearer after the experience.
For me: it is family, health, food and travel. And this realization was the seed that would eventually grow into my boutique tour company… just not right away.
That year immediately after the earthquake, I think my husband and I probably suffered from post traumatic stress. I felt “shell shocked”, stunned, numb. Whereas before Japan I had been a over-educated, under qualified housewife ready to burst with pent up potential; that year following the earthquake, I was just simply content to be alive.
I think we were both relieved that we still had my husband’s dream to pursue and his life trajectory to follow. Because my dream was over.
I had tried to change the path of my life through hard work and lots of resistance. Now, bad luck had brought me back to square one, broken but not defeated. I needed a new tact. So I decided to change my philosophy.
When in living Japan the first time, chance had landed me near a martial arts “Mecca”, the town of Iwama, an important birthplace of aikido. Aikido is a defensive martial art grounded in post WWII pursuit of peace. The basic principle is to harness the energy of your attacker and redirect it so that you can safely immobilize the aggressor or distance yourself from them without anyone getting injured. The name itself, when translated from Japanese, basically means “the way of harmonious energy”. And, like any young woman (who finds herself randomly presented with the opportunity to learn a martial art that she’s never heard of before at a place where others are going out of their way and traveling half-way around the world just to visit) of course I studied it. And watch out, I’m dangerous (because I never really mastered any of the techniques). Even though I may not have gotten aikido, the aikido philosophy somehow got me.
My new life philosophy was to figure out a way to “go with the flow” and accept the fact that I was going to have to figure out a way to make myself happy within the constraints of being married to a French professor who needs to return home to France every summer to share his family and culture with his children. There would be no more grants to study in Japan for me. I needed to accept and embrace that I spend every summer in France and every school year in Austin.
And, I needed to make the most of it. And, I needed to enjoy all the best parts of it.
If I could accept my life as it is, I’d waste less of the energy I had been expending just fighting to go in a different direction without actually going anywhere. I might even be able to pick up some momentum from the current so that my life would be less about struggle and more about enjoying the ride… and actually getting somewhere. My new philosophy was that I can make myself happy even if my life isn’t headed the direction I wanted to go by harnessing the momentum of the direction it was going and using that to propel me toward my own ends.
I had been suffering because I was hung up on this idea that I was trapped in the pursuit of someone else’s dream which left me feeling like a helpless victim dragged in a direction I didn’t want to go by a more forceful individual. Once I decided that the problem wasn’t my husband or his dream, the problem was me (well, not exactly me but the way that I looked at things and responded to them) I’d unexpectedly found the power to make my life better. I know it sounds ironic that being the problem is a more powerful position. But it is! When I saw my husband as the problem there was nothing I could do to make my life better (Let’s face it, it isn’t easy to get other people to change (especially when everything is going well for them) and trust me, I tried (just ask my sweet husband!). But, once I saw myself as the problem… well suddenly I could change anything I wanted! The world was suddenly my oyster again.
Okay, it wasn’t really that easy to change my life philosophy. I know I make it sound like the disaster in Japan acted like some kind of magic wand being waved over my life… but, no. Changing was a process I had to work through.
First I needed to learn to stop trying to forge a totally new path through the brush. I accepted that it was none other than me, myself and I who had chosen to be on a path with my husband (which, unfortunately, was not a very flexible one due to the nature of his profession and, again unfortunately, didn’t go in the direction I had planned to go –which I may have mentioned once or twice already). To use another analogy, my life with Francis had felt like I was kayaking upstream through white water –it was a lot of work and wasted energy that could have been directed toward more constructive outcomes. I had spent years merely slowly working my way up stream or struggling to stay in place. So, I let go. WHOOSH. I just stopped paddling for one little minute. My boat quickly switched directions and I drifted rapidly downstream.
Getting to that point when I could let go was so surprisingly hard. Once I let go though, things began to fall into place on their own.
An important part of finding the courage to let go was the knowledge that I could still be heading toward my own destination. Not just drifting along and enjoying the scenery. That’s not in my character. Though I’m sure that would be nice, if it were in my character. But again, it’s not.
Before I got to that first step, I needed to know I wasn’t giving into a free-drift to be tossed about by the current. And, I had to make sure I was in my own kayak alongside my husband’s –not a two man boat with him steering. I set a goal that I could paddle toward downstream in the direction we were naturally headed. And, it was not starting a boutique tour company offering luxurious sojourns in off-the-beaten path destinations in France. No, I came up with something far more reasonable… I would write an epic guidebook of the kind never before seen!