The Land Of The Rising Stress

, | Japan | Kind Strangers, Transportation, Travel

In university I get the opportunity to spend a semester teaching English in rural Japan. A Japanese woman who did her master’s studies at my university had opened her own English school, and every year she took on a student from my program as her way of paying it forward.

I am excited to go, but it means flying from Chicago to Tokyo Narita, the international airport, catching a train to Tokyo Haneda, the domestic airport, flying to another airport in the south of Japan, then catching another train to the small town, all on my own. My supervisor won’t be meeting me until I make it all the way to my final destination. Since I’ll be in Japan for four and a half months, my suitcase is huge and I can’t lift it on my own.

My first flight goes well; I even manage to sleep a little. I speak Japanese moderately well, since that’s what I am studying in uni, but reading is much harder, especially when tired. Luckily most of the signs in Tokyo also have English translations, and I am able to catch the connecting train to Haneda, where I have about four hours before my next flight. I get checked in and find my gate, but I am so tired I can’t help curling up to nap and hope that no one messes with my bags, which I pull as close to me as I can.

Several people do wake me, but only to make sure I am not missing my flight! Every time a new boarding is called at that gate or the one next to it, someone comes to wake me and politely ask if this is my flight. It is a different person every time, and I am so touched that all of them are concerned about the young foreigner obviously traveling on her own.

I make my second flight to southern Japan, where everything is much more rural and English much more rare. By the time I land and am trying to find my train, I have been awake for about twenty hours, there is a thirteen hour time difference, and I am completely exhausted and losing my grasp on Japanese. I finally figure out where I need to go, but the platform is up a double flight of stairs and I can’t find an elevator anywhere.

Seeing no other choice, I start hauling my bags up the stairs, one step at a time. I have not only my huge suitcase, but also a backpack and a shoulder bag with my laptop. I make it up to the first landing and then trip, falling over my suitcase and only barely keeping my laptop from hitting the concrete. I am so tired and stressed that I just sit down on the step and start crying.

Out of nowhere, an older Japanese man in a full suit and tie stops and bends over me, asking if I am all right. I manage to get across that I need to get up the stairs, but I can’t do it by myself. Without further word, he leans over and lifts my giant suitcase, despite me protesting that it is very heavy. He carries it up the rest of the stairs for me while I follow, pouring out thanks. I manage to pull 1000Yen out of my wallet and try to give it to him, but he refuses, makes sure I have ahold of my suitcase again, and disappears into the crowd.

It seems like no big deal, but I was so tired at the end of a very long trip, and I’ll never forget the kindness that was paid to me. I had so many amazing interactions with people during my months in Japan, but that kind soul right at the start of my trip will always be the clearest in my mind. Arigatou gozaimasu, kind stranger!

A Letter From A Reader

| CA, USA | Health & Body, Non-Dialogue

I have disabling depression and anxiety. I have several self-care behaviors to help with them. I go for massages for my muscle knots and try to exercise as much as possible. I have pets I care for daily and my husband who is an angel of understanding.

Every day I have a routine that helps me keep moving and out from under the immobilizing storm clouds. I feed my birds, my dog, clean the kitchen up. I do my yoga, then sit at the computer with my coffee and go on the Internet.

Humor is an amazing antidepressant and so I always head over to and the related sites of Not Always Working or Right, Related, Learning, or Friendly. The rich tapestry of human experience, both positive and negative, helps me stay balanced and in touch with others, even though I can’t speak to any of the narrators of their experiences.

I can only hope that the person(s) who run those sites understand that it is a great thing they do, and though it is anecdotal, what a great window into humanity this is for us all.

Thank you to those who do this, I hope they get to see this and receive my thanks. You keep me not always hopeless.

Not Tiring Of This Kindness

| Oxford, England, UK | Transportation

(My bicycle has a slow puncture, and the back tire is completely flat. I’m pretty much clueless about bike maintenance, as my dad has always insisted on fixing things for me — I don’t even know what pressure the tires should be! I take it into a local bike cooperative, which is run by volunteers and supplies tools for fixing your own bike for a ‘suggested donation’ of £10, as well as running courses on bicycle maintenance, which are way outside my budget at the moment.)

Me: “Hi, something’s wrong with my bike. The back tire’s all squishy and I put air in it yesterday.”

Volunteer: “Sounds like you’ve got a puncture. Do you know how to fix it yourself or do you want some help?”

Me: “Uh… I honestly have no idea how to do it.”

(The volunteer spends over an hour walking me through fixing the puncture, tells me how to find the tire pressure and has me re-inflate the tires, then points out where my brakes are rubbing and teaches me how to adjust them. After almost two hours, he finally deems the bike safe to ride.)

Volunteer: “So how much would you like to pay? We usually ask for £10, if you can afford it.”

(Yes, this guy rang up two hours of work and teaching as a ‘DIY service’ because it was stuff I should have been taught a long time ago and he felt bad charging me more for it!)

The Magic Of Friendship

| GA, USA | Geeks Rule, Travel

(I’m chatting online with a good friend whom I’ve only met in person once, although we do communicate daily. She’s been telling me about a recent trip to Orlando, Florida and how much she loved it and wants to go back. We are both huge Harry Potter fans.)

Friend: “So, I might have to take a week-long vacation in February because I’ll have four weeks-ish of time saved by then and it’s use it or lose it come April 1st. So I was thinking… of taking you to Hogwarts for a few days. What do you say? I’m 95% sure I can bankroll the whole thing.”

Me: “That sounds awesome, actually.”

(At first I think our plotting is more wishful thinking than reality. With the high cost of a week-long vacation I think it’s too much for my friend to afford. But as we discuss the logistics of such an adventure I realize she’s completely serious. Before I know it everything’s booked.)

Friend: “I’ll buy you your [interactive] wand, too.”

(I make sure to thank my friend profusely. I’ve been unemployed for several years (despite efforts to find work) so I don’t have much cash for expensive trips. If not for her massive generosity in “kidnapping” me I’d likely never get to visit Hogwarts.)

Do To Others As You Would Have Them Do To You

| Charlotte, NC, USA | Awesome, Kind Strangers, LGBTQ

(My youth pastor and I went out to lunch today to just talk about life without feeling pressure from a church setting or parents around. I’ve been venting to him about how helpless I am when my girlfriend tells me she’s having a hard time, as we are in a long-distance relationship and neither of us are of age.)

Me: “I just feel like I can’t do anything sometimes, you know? I can’t do anything to help her but tell her I love her and support her.”

Pastor: “Well, has she been thinking about leaving her parents as soon as she can? She’ll be an adult soon, right?”

Me: “Of course, but neither she nor her family have much money to move out or travel with. She even helps pay bills with money from her job.”

Pastor: “You know what? When she turns 18, I’ll pay for her bus or plane travel myself, if you can find a place to put her up. [Local LGBT+ help organization] is setting up housing soon.”

Me: “Wow, really? Thank you!”

(My pastor isn’t particularly affluent himself, so this meant an awful lot to me. My mom’s said she can stay in our extra room until she gets on her feet as well, and now it’s just a waiting game!)

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