I left America the afternoon of September 30, 2019, arriving in Tokyo Japan on October 1, 2019. As the third anniversary date neared I contemplated my decision to leave America and move to Japan. There were multiple reasons but ultimately it was an escape. I was running away, not in hiding, but nonetheless giving up all my former life.
It was not the first time I sought to make such a significant change. I saw Japan as yet another chance at a new life adventure. This time, I vowed, I would not make the same mistakes.
Perhaps the notion was embedded in my DNA. That I was just following in the footsteps of my grandparents who escaped from pre-World War II Russia and immigrated to the United States in pursuit of the American Dream.
I was the first person on either side of my family tree to receive a college degree, albeit one from a state college that was designed to prepare me to be a public-school history teacher. I never made it to a classroom. Thanks to my extraordinary college experiences and a small cadre of teachers and mentors I encountered, I was driven to try to create a future more hopeful than my present; to build new and hopefully better paths, some beyond my imagination; to dream big dreams.
As graduation neared I faced many challenges, including being drafted to serve with the U.S. military in Vietnam. I gratefully escaped from New Jersey for Washington, DC in 1966, where I spent twenty-five unforgettable and rewarding years in the Nation’s capital.
The drive to change course was to be repeated a number of times in my life story.
As the political climate in the capital began to become toxic in 1991, I decided to end my successful career as a lobbyist, uproot my family abandoning Washington, DC for Nashville Tennessee, and begin anew as a business executive. Perhaps not the best parenting decision, but one that set the stage for yet another unexpected chapter in my extraordinary life story.
The move was the first step in an unimaginable eleven-year global experience as a marketing executive that began with a move to Nuremburg Germany, an extensive and demanding assignment in China, the launch of a new corporate entity, a Herculean globe-hopping effort to promote a “they said it could not be done” sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup, and ended in Tokyo Japan.
Having accomplished more than I had ever believed possible, I wanted to retire, sell a very large house in Morristown New Jersey, and move to my home on Sanibel Island Florida. However, destiny intervened and in 2002, having left my job and dealing with a divorce, I moved instead to a pristine lake in a small town in Maine to begin another new life experience with Keiko, the wonderful woman I had met in Japan. We accepted the dubious welcoming road sign message, “Maine, the way life should be!” and became among the increasing number of newer arrivals who “true” Mainers label as being “from away.”
Unemployed for the first time since college, I gave up looking for a job and decided instead to use my experience and training to make a meaningful societal contribution by helping others to realize their dreams. The decision led to the another, totally unintended, change: In 2004 I became an “Accidental Professor” at the University of Maine Business School. What started as a chance to teach one semester course resulted in a rewarding eleven-year experience as a full-time faculty member!
Despite my decision to leave UMaine in 2015, I continued to work as a consultant to aspiring entrepreneurs for three years until I felt I was being marginalized because of my age, being treated as a spare part put on a shelf to be forgotten. I devoted my time to community service, playing golf, and engaged with my hobby workshop. Despite my efforts to enjoy “retirement,” I was bored and restless.
That unsettled feeling was compounded by the growing civil strife and polarization across the country resulting from Trump’s election as President. I was deeply troubled. Although I never imagined how much the country would change, I feared that the social and political conflict would only get worse.
I began to think that it was again time for a change; the only question: did I have the commitment to do that again?
The tipping point came in the fall of 2018.
I was disturbed by what I saw when I looked at myself in a mirror. My face and eyes reflected feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, jealousy, regret, anger, sadness and bitterness. I accepted the consequences of aging but wanted to be an old person who was content, happy, kind, grateful, connected to others, and interested in the world around them. The idea for the change to be moving to Japan was a romantic notion that I was obligated to bring Keiko home to her native land.
These revelations led to a serious discussion of the many practical considerations involved in such a move, and although I could not understand or speak the language, we decided to sell our home, dispose by means of sale, donation or trash of cars, furniture, art, un-needed and most other possessions and leave America for Japan in 2019.
Everything came together very quickly, including Keiko’s employment, and on September 30, 2019 Toma and I departed on flights from Boston for Japan. (It was already October 1 in Tokyo.). Fortunately, our container of goods also departed and would arrive in December before the COVID pandemic could strand me homeless.
As I reflect on this life story I often find myself wondering how odd my life is! I leave America and then, all of a sudden, the country is beset by a series of incomprehensible events and the world seems to be falling apart!
I recall sitting on that final JAL flight, relieved but experiencing a touch of anxiety about the uncertainty of change and what lied ahead. I reflected on how I had gotten to this point in my life. Earlier in life I had looked forward to experiencing something new or uncertain. Soon to be age 76, I had some doubt.
I spent the remainder of the long trip reading and contemplating the message of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Ulysses, a dramatic monologue detailing the Greek hero’s escapades. Tennyson succinctly offers his view that humans are shaped by a combination of all life’s experiences.
The following excerpt from the poem seems a proper way to end this post.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades
Forever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breath were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
The closing line is inspirational and exciting. We may not know what’s out there but we’re going to search for it.
As I sat on the long flight with these private thoughts running through my head, I decided I had no need to dwell on the past and to only look to the future.