We’re in this shit together.

LAST SUNDAY, my friends and I hopped on the train for Kobe, an iconic city of Japan about forty-five minutes from home in Osaka.

Kobe sits nestled by the sea, a city synonymous with its decadent beef — Kobe Beef. But let’s move beyond the beef for now, although it is incredible.

Kobe has a cosmopolitan feel, which derives from it being one of the first port cities in Japan to open up to foreign trade in the 1860s.

At times it felt like strolling down a boulevard in Victorian London; then we’d turn an alley and gaze upon teeming green mountains in the distance.

The verdant trees set a contrasting backdrop beyond incandescent signs dripping with rain, opaque and alluring as plumes of steam rose from the mouthwatering street food and formed an otherworldly atmosphere.

Yes, we’re still in Japan.

Exploring Kobe was one of the coolest days of my life. We swam in the crisp Osaka Bay as the rain started to fall. Those cozy on the beach and tucked away in the seaside burger joint probably wondered, “what on earth are they doing?”

Feeling unequivocally alive, my dear friend.

Suma Beach, Kobe, Japan.
Suma Beach, Kobe, Japan.

This feeling, to me, comes from being with friends.

It comes from a swim in the ocean that causes you to emerge from the water, gather your things so they don’t get too soaked, and beeline for some cover.

Your body steams from the contrasting temperatures; your heart races and your soul wakes from whatever spell it lay under.

It comes from experiencing the spirit of a new city, not while soaked in sunlight, but steeped in rain. The port city feels like a melding of 1800s Europe and modern Japan; nostalgia and modernity; nature and metal.

The orange neon lights of Nankinmachi, Kobe’s Chinatown, mysterious and ethereal in the falling dusk, amplified the wonder of the coming season.

We marveled at the undying sea of umbrellas which crashed like waves through every street.

The intensity of the rain grew while we explored the multifaceted city. I snapped photos with my camera as my eyes floated from scene to scene, shot to shot.

Carried by the burgeoning gusto of fall, I couldn’t stop thinking: a day like this makes me happier than anything.

When you tell the universe what you love, it listens. It’ll guide you.

If something brings you joy, especially the simplest things, it’s paramount — our duty — to follow that feeling. The more I do, the deeper I know myself.

I write because in some capacity it gives me the same surge of sheer energy I feel on a day like this. I’m receiving the world as I wander through it. By putting the words on the page, I’m giving something back.

And if this and nothing else is what writing adds to my life, it’s more than enough.

A couple of days ago I finished the book, Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed. This book rocked me.

Strayed, or “Sugar,” as she’s known in her column, answers letters from everyday people asking for advice. It illuminates how alike we all are, how to share compassion for others, how to be easier on ourselves.

In one letter, a woman expounds on her inability to feel joy for other’s success, even when they’re her “best friends.”

She’s a writer, and she’s distressed that her friends are getting book deals and making names for themselves, and she isn’t. She fakes being happy when really she hates that they’re succeeding.

This made me think about what’s important in life. What we consider success. What we consider failure. What truly brings joy. What truly brings hate.

As a writer, I grapple with the classic conundrum which afflicts every soul who creates: to do it because you love it, or to make money.

What does it actually mean to make it?

I know the answer. It’s the one that keeps me going. Writing helps me understand the mysteries of being alive. I write to illuminate the darkness in myself and the world. I write to share the love that I felt while drifting through Kobe and laughing with my friends.

I write because I must.

What kind of life is it to take joy in somebody else’s failure; what sort of life is it to feel anguish when somebody else succeeds? Does the facade of success make life that much sweeter?

There are countless examples about how empty the finish line is, the pay raise, whatever, without the purpose behind it. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for success.

Far from it.

We must rather understand why we’re striving in the first place, for the finish line is seldom what we expect.

Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, is a poignant example. In his book Shoe Dog, he describes running into Warren Buffett and Bill Gates at a movie theater, two of the top ten richest people in the world today.

They make small talk, just three seemingly normal guys more influential than ancient kings. Knight goes home, kicks back on his recliner and looks at his to-do list for the next day. He feels as empty as the list.

He discusses how he pines for the early days of building Nike, when it was him and his rag-tag team scrambling to create something that mattered with their hearts on the line.

It hurts to feel like what we’re doing isn’t paying off. But why, whyare we doing what we’re doing in the first place? Most of us must work to live. But there’s so much beyond that.

So much beyond cashing a paycheck, rising in the ranks, looking good on paper, beating the opponent. Winning.

There’s everything else.

There’s living.

We’re here for each other. A life where somebody else’s success brings darkness to your soul is a lonely life.

We won’t all get along and be the same, nor should we want to be. We don’t have to hold hands and sing Kumbaya together. But there’s no place in this world to try and tear one another down.

Life is too damn hard, too complex, too profoundly mysterious and beyond our comprehension. We can’t fathom what this all means.

But I believe the idea of “making it” is hollow, unless it’s the side effect of something deeper, something full. And what that is, I believe, is a striving to understand. A striving to make a difference, however small, and in doing so help others seeking the light as well.

There’s nothing inherently bad about this woman who sent the letter — she’s a human being, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel jealous at times. But what I also know is I’d never want to bring somebody down for my own success.

I want to find my path as I wallow in the mud with my brothers and sisters in arms, for this journey, one in which at times I’ll have to go at it alone, is not a solitary one.

Money doesn’t draw the demons from our soul, for those, we must grapple on the daily, whether we have millions, or nothing. That, we can’t do alone.

We’re in this shit together.

Annnnd for some Kobe beef.

By some divine intervention we managed a reservation at this spot, Tor Road Steak Aoyama. We read that the staff treats you like long-lost grandchildren.

Spot on. It was a meal to end a day I’ll never forget.

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