When you read this, I’ll be, by the grace of God and the pilot’s skill, in Japan. I’ve traveled some in the world, but never beyond a six-hour flight, and as I type this, I have no idea at all how I’ll spend some 15 hours on an airplane. I suppose I could write my stories that are overdue. Or read one of those great classic books we always promise we’ll read on vacation. But we never do, always ending up with some cheesy magazine, or a novel with short paragraphs and heroes and villains and lots of plot. I imagine some of the time I’ll reflect on the strange, always mysterious process by which a child grows up and moves out into his own world — a world I’ll now visit, speaking not a word of the native language. I’ll be dependent on my son’s knowledge. He will, in a sense, be sure I cross the street and look both ways.
My son Dan graduated a year ago from a fine college in California (he’d visited all the sturdy New England colleges, but when he saw the trees and the school’s Spanish architecture and all the students in shorts and sandals in March, he was there), where he became deeply interested in Asian life and culture. He studied beginning Japanese last summer for 10 days at the justifiably famous Rassias summer program at Dartmouth College (www.rassias.com). I’ve rarely seen him so enthused about learning. They know what they’re doing there, making language a vital, living experience. And then in what seemed to me a blur of a departure at the airport, he was off, to a new job teaching English at a public middle school. He turned once as he passed through the passenger line, and I turned to wave back. And then a plane took him as far away as I could imagine, to where, when I’m waking up here, it’s dark and families are settling in for bed.
He’s making all the plans: where we stay, what we see, how we get from point A to point B. My younger son, Josh, is coming with me, a day after his own college year ends — and there we’ll be, three Allen boys in a land where only one of us knows how to get around. It seems so close in my memory, the days I’d hoist him to my shoulders so that he could look around and see what’s up. Holding his arms above water while he learned that the harder he kicked, the more splashes he made, the more fun he had. And one day I let go, and he stayed afloat, and one more day, it seemed, he was off in the deep end. The years turning over one page at time — seemingly a book with no end, until suddenly it’s going so fast, like a blur, and no matter how much you want to hold on for more time, to keep the child just a tad longer, it’s past. The only rewind is in our memory.
So I’m sure my airplane hours will be spent right there. He wants to show us Tokyo and his school in Kasukabe, and Mt. Fuji, and Hiroshima and Nara and Kyoto. Right now they’re all just names and paragraphs in a guidebook. They all sound wonderful and exotic, and the joy of travel is always the mystery anyway. What I’m looking forward to the most is seeing my guide, who, once I let go, never stopped seeking the deeps.