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Journal: What if...?

Note: This Journal entry was written on October 2, 2001, as I walked on the Old Tokaido. Take a look at that day's Logbook for more.


What if...?

"What if frogs had wings? They wouldn't bump their butts when they hopped."

These and other such phrases are often used to discourage children from saying "What if...?"

But "what if" is one of our most important questions. Our greatest hopes--and fears--are often expressed in sentences beginning "what if."

Today I faced all the negative possibilities I could about this trip. Don't get me wrong: I'm not being pessimistic. But I have to face the facts about myself, my abilities, and the demands of this journey. In a nutshell, I'm just not moving as fast as I expected to.

The Buddhist practice of "seeing things as they are" often leads to thinking about the next step. So here are some of them:

  • What if I don't get to Kyoto on time? (I'm already so late!)
  • What if I can't see everything I want to see in Yamato?
  • What if (gods forbid) I can't finish in time, and have to break off to return to the U.S.? (I have a ticket for December 17th.)

The answer to all of these questions is: "SO WHAT??!!"

I'm having a great time. I'm meeting kindness everywhere. I'm seeing new things every day. I'm producing pages that are bringing pleasure to readers. I have the satisfaction of doing something I've longed dreamed of doing.

The last question--"What if I can't finish?"--was the one that bugged me the most. After all, I vowed to do it!

But traditionally, there's a way out: the pilgrim vows to finish or die. That doesn't mean he'll finish in one trip. So if I don't finish? Hey, I'll come back and finish next year. If I'm too goal-oriented (gotta walk 800 kilometers today) I'll miss a lot.

There are two vital and complementary ideas in the Japanese national mindset. One is the idea I hear every day: "Gambatte, kudasai!" It means something like "fight on" or "hang in there." In other words, don't quit. It carries with it a strong sense of encouragement to do your best.

The other idea is "shoganai." It's tough to translate, but would often be used where a North American would shrug and say, "Hey, what can ya do?" It's resignation to things as they are, things that can't be helped.

Taken together, these two ideas mean, "Do your best, but sometimes--due to things beyond your control--you won't succeed. In that case, accept things as they are."

Remember "The Serenity Prayer"?
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And Wisdom to know the difference.
Well, the first line of this prayer sounds uncannily like "shoganai," and the second like "gambatte"!

So I will fight on until the deadline overtakes me, wherever I am. Gambarimasu. Then, with a joyful heart, I will return to Tokyo and Los Angeles. If there are still some temples to finish, I'll nail 'em down next time around. Shoganai.

Posted October 3, 2019

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