Biding Your Time

My favorite author is Haruki Murakami. And one of my favorite books is his novel Kafka on the Shore. It’s a tough book to describe – there are 2 different mostly unrelated storylines. One of them is a boy who runs away from home, the other is an old man who can talk to cats.

The boy who runs away from home is very methodical. He prepares for a few years, because he does not want to make any mistakes. He treats his escape from home as a war he doesn’t want to lose – sometimes, a useful way of looking at life. His preparation only covers 15-20 pages, but it’s a wonderful description of self-sufficiency… and, in particular, the idea of preparing for freedom while unable to make the leap yet.

Just the bare necessities, that’s all I need. Choosing which clothes to take is the hardest thing. I’ll need a couple sweaters and pairs of underwear. But what about shirts and trousers? Gloves, mufflers, shorts, a coat? There’s no end to it. One thing I do know, though. I don’t want to wander around some strange place with a huge backpack that screams out, Hey, everybody, check out the runaway! Do that and someone is sure to sit up and take notice. Next thing you know the police will haul me in and I’ll be sent straight home. If I don’t wind up in some gang first.

Any cold place is definitely out, I decide. Easy enough, just choose the opposite – a warm place. Then I can leave the coat and gloves behind, and get by with half the clothes. I pick out wash-and-wear-type things, the lightest ones I have, fold them neatly, and stuff them in my backpack. I also pack a three-season sleeping bag, the kind that rolls up nice and tight, toilet stuff, a rain poncho, notebook and pen, a Walkman and ten discs – got to have my music – along with a spare rechargeable battery. That’s about it. No need for any cooking gear, which is too heavy and takes up too much room, since I can buy food at the local convenience store.

It takes a while but I’m able to subtract a lot of things from my list. I add things, cross them off, then add a whole other bunch and cross them off, too.

My fifteenth birthday is the ideal time to run away from home. Any earlier and it’d be too soon. Any later and I would have missed my chance.

During my first two years in junior high, I’d worked out, training myself for this day. I started practicing judo in the first couple years of grade school, and still went sometimes in junior high. But I didn’t join any school teams. Whenever I had the time I’d jog around the school grounds, swim, or go to the local gym. The young trainers there gave me free lessons, showing me the best kind of stretching exercises and how to use the fitness machines to bulk up. They taught me which muscles you use every day and which ones can only be built up with machines, even the correct way to do a bench press. I’m pretty tall to begin with, and with all this exercise I’ve developed pretty broad shoulders and pecs. Most strangers would take me for seventeen. If I ran away looking my actual age, you can imagine all the problems that would cause.

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Specialization

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love

I dislike Robert Heinlein. His novels mostly amount to ponderous diatribes. Nonetheless: this is an admirable set of goals for a human being to strive to achieve. Too frequently we focus on acquiring provincial skills, and we shut our minds to the greater wonder of the world. We learn only to change the oil in the car, or to play a C scale. Yes, those are useful skills. But they shouldn’t be the end goal. Rather, the end goal should be the cultivation of wisdom, and learning how to connect to other human beings (yes, even for us introverts!). What could be more important than comforting the dying, or being able to lead, or simply knowing how to listen?