A Question of Balance
When it is all said and done, do you feel like you stay on an even keel emotionally most of the time? Here is a story about how easy it is to lose one’s emotional balance.
Recently, I was coming home from an evening business meeting in Tokyo. I walked a block, and like all good citizens do in Japan, when I got to the corner and the light was red, I stopped and waited for it to turn green before crossing.
Just as the traffic signal turns amber, to warn drivers to slow down and stop, a motorcycle and its rider slowly grind to a halt. The guy has on a backpack, there is a huge bundle tied to the back seat of the bike, and he has other stuff hanging from the bike handles. He looks like a homeless person who still has enough money to own a bike.
With the bike stops the man uses his feet to balance himself, just as riders always do. The only thing different in this case, is that the man and his bike are leaning quite heavily to the left, as if he has no sense of straight up and down, and can’t feel the pull of gravity.
He wobbles once… he wobbles twice… and then swoosh… .
The man, his motorcycle, and all of the stuff he is carrying with him, slide down to the ground.
My first thought is “Wow, this guy must really be drunk, I better get him off his bike and make sure he can’t drive for a while.” As I weigh all the variables that might be involved, I notice that everyone else is simply crossing the street as if nothing has happened.
As the guy struggles to get back up, the light turns green and now cars start to whiz by, and I get worried that he will get hit. So as fools often do, I rush in where wise men fear to tread.
I say hello in a loud voice to let him know I am nearby. As he turns to look, I reach out and take the handlebars and right the bike, and walk it over to the side of the road. As I had hoped, he follows along after me, dragging his belongings.
I put the kickstand of the bike down, and the guy starts apologizing profusely, while also thanking me and pointing out how clumsy and foolish he is in general. This act of contrition is a lovely art form in Japanese culture. And I must admit, for the average Westerner, it takes quite a good deal of trial and error practice to reproduce.
I smile at the guy, and playfully ask him if he has had a tough night, and a bit too much to drink. “No, no, nothing at all to drink.” he says. “My girlfriend just broke up with me, and I am broken hearted. We divided everything up as equally as we could. I kept the bike and all the rest of what I am carrying. She kept her belongings and the sidecar for the bike, which she always rode around in with me. I guess it’s going to take a while to get used to no longer needing to balance her weight.”
I nod my head and smile, to signify that I understand what he is talking about, and indeed, what he says, somehow really touches me. We look at each other for a moment or two with a sense of brotherhood, and then his face suddenly livens up and he says “Now that I think about it, maybe I’m the lucky one. I can still get around, but she’s left sitting all alone by the side of the road!”