You tried so hard to understand them
You wanted to be part of what was happening
You saw them having fun
And it seemed like such a mystery
--Henry Rollins, I Know You
During Summer there are many fireworks displays all across Japan, and attending them is a popular pastime. The Japanese have been doing this for around 300 years now, and even today, many of the people who attend don traditional Summer clothes, yukata for women, and jinbei for men. Couples, families, groups of friends will wander down to the parks, beaches, and riversides of Japan, eat, drink, socialize, fan themselves with sensu or uchiwa, hear the cicada sing and watch the fireworks.
Recently I was invited to watch some fireworks. Our group was probably about 15 people altogether, and I knew two of them. The story of this night, at least from my view, is pretty much the story of every large social event that I have attended since childhood.
I tend to find most social situations uncomfortable, but especially those with large groups of people. In Japan the language issue makes things more complicated, as my level of Japanese is not anywhere near as good as it should be after four years here, and of course, when I am not confident, it gets worse.
But to put too much blame on the language misses the point. The way I feel, and the way things tend to play out, have been the same for decades. I tend to have a couple of people I feel somewhat comfortable talking with, and spend a lot of time, too much time, talking with them when they'd probably much rather be talking with other people.
I have brief, uncomfortable conversations with people I don’t know so well, or don’t know at all, and after exchanging pleasantries and making some small talk the other person tends to find that they need to be elsewhere. They sense something wrong and move on. As the time goes by I feel increasingly uncomfortable.
I watch the other people talk with each other, telling jokes or stories, seeing the charismatic ones hold court, see people mingling, watching strangers gradually become comfortable with each other, find things in common, see friendships begin, watch people click with each other.
I know all of these people have their problems. We all do. Perhaps they have problems with money, or alcohol, or gambling. Maybe they are unhappy at work, or they can’t find a job. It could be they have problems with their family or their sexuality. Maybe their relationship is not going well, or maybe they don’t have one. Maybe they are trying to get over a broken heart. Perhaps they have some kind of serious illness, or are worried about their future. We are all struggling with something.
But they seem to manage, and put things to the side, at least for the moment. I don’t. For as long as I can remember, the times when people come together tend to be the worst times. I often tend to find myself alone, feeling that I am so lonely that I could die from it. Or, I tend to find myself in social situations that are excruciatingly painful, waiting for it to be over, wishing that I had not bothered, and just stayed at home.
So, I find myself between a rock and a hard place. And I can’t really see any way this will change. I used to blame the world, blame other people. And I still do sometimes. But for the most part I have come to recognize that I am the cause of my unhappiness. I think I have always tried the best that I could, whether at a backyard party or family Christmas in Australia or under the glow of fireworks in Japan. But unfortunately, my best is not good enough.