Several weeks ago a friend of mine was in a car accident here in Japan. Well, her car was stopped at a red light when another vehicle struck it. There was enough damage for it to be a hassle but she wasn’t injured, the other driver wasn’t hurt, and she wasn’t worried too much because she knew her insurance would cover the repair costs. Soon after the accident she got smacked again with a little culture shock: She was assigned 5% responsibility for the accident. It turns out, that in Japan each party is assigned a percentage of responsibility for an accident no matter how ‘innocent’ one may be. My friend really thought this was funny—it drove her husband nuts—but she just thought it was interesting and funny. “Five percent!” she laughed, “What’s the point?!”
What is the point? Well, I suppose the point of it is that the moment a person decides to join that community of drivers she becomes a part of that group and is responsible for anything that might happen while she is on the road. The very fact that she is driving and has decided on some level to accept the risk that an accident might happen makes her responsible. I think I love that. I think there is a deep truth in that that many of us raised in cultures that don’t write group orientation into something as pedestrian as traffic legislation (sorry, I couldn’t resist that pun) could really benefit from reflecting and chewing on. Maybe throw into practice a little.
Is that too abstract? Imagine it’s a Johnny Cash song and we’re flying along some highway with hair splitting the wind and for a moment, a beautiful moment, a clarity settles in your feeling and your vision and you can sense in perfect and tangible detail that you are living. You are living because you have chosen to, you are on the highway, the boulevard, the back road or the cul de sac because you put yourself there and you are at the very least 5% responsible. Do you see what I mean?
Once I received news that blew a hole through my subtle stomach. The ache was so deep I could barely breathe and everything went blurry. We learned that we couldn’t make our own babies and it felt like the baby I always imagined I would one day grow and raise died. It wasn’t only the baby that died but, seemingly, the mother in me died. For months I could barely breathe. I couldn’t do Yoga, I couldn’t taste my food, I couldn’t compute my history…I was flailing and flailing until my arms became so exhausted from all the flapping they forced me into a resolution: If I can’t have a baby, what can I do?
What can you do? It sounds so trite…but I think my gym teachers were being quite freaking radical when they told me “There is no such thing as can’t”…perhaps they really were just thinking of street hockey and dodge ball but really what can I do?
The moment I asked myself that question and began meditating on it, the hole in my stomach transformed itself into a blazing sun that fuels me, keeps me warm, and keeps me up at all hours writing, thinking, working.