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The Balancing Act is Easier in Okinawa

By: Sheila J. Vaughen

Date Posted: 2001-03-30

Balance has been weighing heavily on my mind recently. Not the kind of balance that prevents an embarrassing little trip when trying something new, like walking, but the kind of balance that applies to oneís life. In Rogetís Super Thesaurus, the first and most obvious antonym for balance is imbalance; more telling are its opposites of instability and irrationality.

That describes it well for me; I would like to avoid an irrational life. A recent trip back to the U.S. enabled me to see my family and old friends through a prism of perspective that comes from living in a foreign country, and then going home to visit. That in itself is an ironic concept, visiting your home, but thatís what we all do after finding that home has become a place where no family roots are laid and the native language is not your own.

Air hopping around several states to visit my family and my husbandís family, I saw something similar in these very different people living in different parts of the country. I saw lives that, in my opinion, are too full of too much work, too much scheduling and not enough balance in the things I believe we all consider important.

Busy and prosperous they were, in various American suburbs, making their own version of the American dream. But my impression was that of lives overwhelmed by their work - work from dawn to past dark.

I saw expensive homes in utter disarray because there was no time to clean. I saw well-dressed women, attractive and slim, whose fashionable looks masked poor health caused by bad diets, no exercise and too many cigarettes. I saw obese people eating unnatural proportions of proteins versus carbohydrates, trying to overcome years of eating too much of everything. I saw more people who were just too fat and simply oblivious.

I saw friends who although their income is way beyond that of mine, still canít break away from their business to take a real vacation. Why is that? The Japanese call it the salaryman syndrome, or kaishya-ningen, and the concept is the same. Everything is for their work, their company, the salary. Where is the balance for family, love, health and spirit?

Here on Okinawa, whether a native or a visitor, it seems we have a unique chance to walk to a pace that is a bit slower and a bit easier than the beat that drives many of our counterparts back in the States and mainland Japan.

Okinawa, while large enough to accommodate weeks of sightseeing, is still small enough that we donít have to drive like maniacs on the outer beltways of sprawling cities just to get to work and back. While traffic jams do snarl here daily, we still have it better than our larger urban cousins in many ways.

While Okinawans and Americans seeking jobs here justifiably complain about lower pay scales and fewer opportunities, we have other things that can easily compensate for fewer bucks. Here we can get to know our neighbors. Here gentle chimes greet us at 7 am each morning. Here barefoot feet can slide into soft sand at the waterís edge only minutes after leaving our homes or offices; if we just go.

To me it seems that Okinawans have maintained a strong sense of their home town, their village, or mura in their language. Those living on military bases have a different version of it, but still we all live in close communities. With the right perspective, even these military neighborhoods can instill the feeling of safety and ease that once defined small town America of the past.

I am resolved to better balance my life. I want to take more walks through my neighborhood in the evening. I want to party with the locals at their festivals. I want to yell at my kids less and read to them more. I want to make the most of my last year here on this strange and wonderful island.

These feelings of resolution were born in me when I returned to Okinawa. As the plane flew in lower to prepare to land, I could see the tops of whitish, concrete buildings, the crazy maze of narrow streets and ocean waves rushing to blue shoreline. I smiled with a sensation of coming home.

I had spent more than a month ďback homeĒ to realize that my home, for now, is here. And my life here has balance.

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