Today was a humbling object lesson in the adage "No matter how bad you think you've got it, somebody, somewhere has it worse":
I was at my favorite hole-in-the wall eatery in Ikebukuro, Tokyo's busiest northwestern hub, enjoying jumbo gyoza - pan-fried dumplings. I struck up a conversation with the bustling mid-40s waiter, who was pretty effortlessly covering the entire floor by himself.
"Hitori de hataraitte imasu ka?" I asked.
(一人で働いていますか are you working alone then?)
"Hai, so desu,"
(はい、そです Yes, I am) he replied with a friendly smile - from the corners of which leaked a nearly overwhelming pain. A lifetime of hard work has made him sinewy and tough-looking, giving his skin the look of tanned leather.
"Ikebukeru de sunde imasu ka?"
(池袋ですんでいますか Do you live in Ikebukuro?） I asked, to fill the space, as his station was right in front of my table.
"Iie - Saitama de," he replies.
(いいえ、埼玉で。 No; I live in Saitama) This is the suburb, about a 45-minute commute from the sprawling metropolis.
"Ah," I answer, "chotto shizuka desu ne. Sore no ho ga ii desu yo ne."
(ああ、一寸静かですよね。それの方がいいですよね。Oh, it's a little quieter, isn't it. That's better, wouldn't you agree?)
"Ee,: he replied, "demo..."
(ええ、でも。。。。 Yes, but...)
and he swallowed, his eyes growing moist.
"Juu go nenn mae, watashi no ie ha kaji de moechatta...."
(十五年前, 私の家は、火事で燃えちゃった 15 years ago, my house burned down in a fire....）
"Kazuko wa, minna, nakunarimashita."
(家族は、皆、亡くなりました My entire family perished.)
"Mainichi, seikatsu ha, hataraitte irun dake ni narimashita"
(毎日、生活は、働いているんだけになりました My life has turned into nothing but work, day in and day out).
The Japanese have an ancient proverb, which reads 愛と笑いの生活 - (Ai to warai no seikatsu - "Live with love and laughter"). Choose to be happy with the time one is given, because one never knows what fate has in store.