The Long Way Round

— Hengtee Lim

Sometimes, on my way to a cafe or a coffee shop, I’ll take the long way round—get off the train a stop or two from my destination, and take a winding path through city streets and residential blocks.

If I’m not in a hurry, I’ll stop by a park to watch salarymen and office ladies eat lunch, or a single businessman work his way through a lonely cigarette. I watch him sigh, and stare at the clouds, and I wonder what thoughts criss-cross his mind in these quiet moments. I wonder what happens when he exits stage right, and finishes his role as extra in the movie of my life.

Photography by Rie Miyoshi.

It’s staggering to think that each apartment building is a Petri dish of random life—an assortment of clustered bacteria that somehow finds a harmony of being. Each of those rooms in each of those apartment buildings is a story in which I will never feature—an entirely different world filled with entirely different characters, living entirely different lives.

We’re all of us our own little world. Our own little planet. We fill ourselves with land, sea, cities, pollution, and natural beauty. We get so caught up in the spinning of our own world we sometimes forget the hundreds of others that do the same.

There’s beauty there we don’t see.

When I walk, I wonder: How many planets orbit the sun of a single apartment building?

One of those rooms might house a lesson in heartbreak. One a love story. One an estranged family drama. One a poem of solitude and eventual suicide. One the portrait of a happy-go-lucky train station attendee. In one of those rooms lives a singer with a voice that will never be discovered. One might be home to Japan’s next literary great.

And this is just one building.

When I think of the untold stories in the city of Tokyo, and the country of Japan, and the rest of the world, I start to lose myself in the immensity. The scope.

This is a world that wouldn’t blink if I left it. A world that would spin regardless of the drama, heartbreak, and joy I experience.

It’s a world with a life all of its own, in which I play a speck of dust.

Imagine for a moment, if every speck of dust on your bedroom floor had a story to tell. A life to lead. A brain to think, and a heart to love.

That’s the world we live in. That’s the lives we live, every day.

And if we are simply specks of dust on the floor of the universe, don’t we at least deserve to be happy ones?

I try to think about this when I’m on the train, squished in with hundreds of people I won’t ever know. When someone spills a drink on my favorite shirt. When winter eats at the tips of my fingers because I’ve missed the last train home. When my heart breaks. When I lose a friend to time. When everything hurts.

When the world is too heavy.

I long to reach out—to read and discover individual lives. To listen to the stories people want to tell, and help others finish those still being written. To foster the seeds that might one day flower, and the specks of dust that don’t even know they have stories to tell.

But for now, I walk, watch, and listen.

I soak in the space that bonds and connects us.

And in that, I find perspective.

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