Dancing Lessons From God

September 25, 2010

Kurt Vonnegut wrote famously in his beloved novel Cat’s Cradle: “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” It is a quote that I have repeated on countless occasions, and indeed, the motto by which I try to live my life. It has gotten a workout over the past year, during which time I could be found crawling around pre-Expo construction sites along the Shanghai Bund, hiking alongside fjords and through glacial fields in western Newfoundland, and spending Chinese New Year in a subtropical Korean Island, in the middle of an uncharacteristic snowstorm. It is more than a bit weird to see swaying palm trees covered with icicles.

A couple Decembers ago, I was in Tokyo, on the phone with my brother, Thane, who lives in Los Angeles. We commiserated about missing the holidays together yet again, at which point he said “Why don’t you come here for Christmas?” The biggest and best reason was that I had been planning a trip to Thailand, a place I had never visited, which promised a steamily exotic Yuletide experience. Or possibly Hong Kong, the crossroads of the world, another place I had missed (although I have since rectified that omission). Still, the pull of family was strong, and so Saki and I headed for LA, for her second time, but my umpteenth.

The following year, once again in December, once again on the phone with Thane, I suggested that he and his wife come to spend the holidays with us in Tokyo. He hemmed and hawed a bit, but I could tell that the idea held some appeal for him. He had to get a new passport before he could leave, and he wasn’t sure how quickly that could be effected, he told me. Suspicious soul that I am, I thought I heard equivocation in his voice, so I closed the conversation with “You know, Kurt Vonnegut once said ‘Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.’” Let him stew on that thought for a bit…

As it happened, he was able to get his passport situation sorted out in the requisite amount of time, and a couple of days before Christmas I stood expectantly at the top of the escalator in Nippori train station, waiting to meet his train from Narita Airport. From there we would take a series of trains and buses to my apartment in suburban Tokyo. We had ten days or so together, blessed by the travel deities both with good weather and the abundant grace of being at the right place at the right time, more times than we could count. One evening, Thane and I took a walk down to Inageya, the local grocery store; we were marvelling about how well the trip had gone, and what an unalloyed pleasure it had been knocking around the largest city in the world together. He looked over at me and said, chuckling, “What really did it for me was the ‘dancing lessons from God’ quote. When you said that, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I didn’t somehow get to Japan this Christmas, I would be a big wuss, and I would always regret it.”

So there’s the challenge: next time somebody says “how about coming with me to (fill in the blank with some vowel-laden destination you’ve only barely heard of)”, give it some serious thought. At the end of the day, you don’t want people going around behind your back saying you’re a wuss.