Many years ago, practically a lifetime ago, I was introduced to a blog. “I am a Japanese Schoolteacher,” it was called. It was the personal experiences of an American guy, calling himself “Azrael” online, who’d joined a program to teach English in Japan. The thing was fairly popular way back around 2005-2006. If you were on the internet back then, you probably at least heard about it: this is the blog that introduced the terms “kancho” and “gaijin smash” into the lexicon of your average netizen. It came up in conversation with my sister the other day, who is only recently old enough for me to introduce her to things like this. It’s a fairly uncensored version of the guy’s experiences in Japan, after all. So I showed it to her.
The original website returns a “bandwidth exceeded” error, but I found a mirror of it that works. My sister, who definitely enjoys and appreciates Japanese culture more than your average French Canadian beekeeper, thought the first few posts were hilarious and decided to read through the whole thing. So I figured “hey, I enjoyed it the first time around, and I’m pretty sure I lost track of it before it ended, so why don’t I read through all of it as well?”
His posts range in topic, some funny and silly and some serious and insightful. There were a few that I remembered fairly distinctly. There were others that I only recalled as I read them.
Then there was this one post. As I read through the archive it was sitting in the periphery of my recollections. I didn’t quite actively look forward to or expect to read it, but something in me knew it was coming eventually. Because more than any other post the guy made, this one actually affected me really strongly and influenced how I dealt with some real-life situations.
I don’t remember the exact timeline. Things that happen a lifetime ago often take up fuzzy places in the memory. I remember reading the post, and then I remember the event it informed. It might have been a day before, it might have been six months.
I should review a bit. The period of 2005-2006 was a fairly tumultuous for me. Moved out of my parent’s place. Moved across the planet. Started college. And then I got hit with a rather heavy bludgeon when, a few months later, my best friend from back home passed away. There are quite a few things I read or saw from that time period that affected me probably more than they would otherwise.
Like I said, I don’t quite remember how the series of events flowed, but I do remember thinking heavily about a post titled A Death in the Family about the passing of one of the guy’s students when, two weeks after I returned to Israel from Steven’s funeral, I learned that a classmate of mine at university had passed as well. Completely unexpected, cause unknown, she just went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up the next day.
I didn’t know her. We’d studied almost a whole semester together, in a class of about 100 students, and I had no idea who she was. I’d been dealing with roommate issues, dealing with school, trying to adjust to the country, and I just didn’t know all 100 classmates, and she was one that I’d missed.
There were two major takeaways that I had from Azrael’s post: 1) the phrase “it’s much better to see their smiling faces,” which a teacher had applied to the students after they’d been successfully distracted from their grief by a simple classroom game, and 2) he’d asked to see the boy’s picture. It’s a small thing, but it’s important. He wasn’t sure which student it was, didn’t know the kid too well, and wanted to have a face to attach to what was going on around him.
I asked around for a few days, but I never was able to find Eva’s picture. To this day, I have no idea who she was. I know she was German, I know she was a Zionist, I know her life’s path intersected with mine for a few months. And I know that, near the main entrance to the IDC in Herzliya, there is a rock with a plaque on it in her honor.
Reading Azrael’s post again brought back waves of memories, waves of regret. Things I’d almost forgotten about that were just hanging around on the periphery of my mind waiting for a trigger.
It was around seven years ago when I first read this particular comic strip from David Willis, asserting that “On average everyone may seem like a completely different person every seven years.” It’s strange to be able to consciously look back on things that were going on in my life almost seven years ago, to have such clear memories of them, even though they happened so long ago.
Practically a lifetime ago.