So Off They Go…

There’s an icy rain falling in southern Michigan.  There were even some rumbles of thunder a while ago.  But I’ve spent the past couple of hours at the home of some dear friends who are now just 9 days away from their epic move to Nanjing, China, so I’ve barely had a chance to notice the weather.

Whatever possessed them to host an open house party just over a week before their big move is beyond me…but then, that’s what I love about them.  They’re so much more fearless in all ways than we are.  They know what to cherish and how to honor it.  They have a good grasp of the “big picture” that is life.  In more practical ways, they’re organized and energetic and decisive.  (Right now, I hear my friend C. snorting  in self deprecation “Yeah, right!”)

But still, I can’t muster up the courage to move myself to a different state for three months out of the year, much less move myself to a totally different country/culture for three entire years like they’re about to do.  Where does courage like that come from?

The friends who attended tonight’s soiree were mostly their friends from the neighborhood, some of whom I’ve met but others I had not.  It was interesting to listen to their reactions to the move – some were thinly veiled disapproval masked as disbelief.  “So, do people really eat insects on a stick over there?” I heard someone ask.  “What are you going to do with yourself all day?” one friend inquired of C. with great concern. “Wow, your place over there looks really nice! It has an actual bathroom and not a hole in the ground!” was another comment.

Before  you say to yourself “how provincial are these people!” remember where we are.  We’re talking a middle class neighborhood in the suburbs of Detroit where most of the people have their roots in the auto industry or it’s relations.  Many of these people have never traveled outside the boundaries of the United States, and if they have, it might have been on a tour of duty –  or a tour sponsored by American Express.  We are not a worldly bunch, for the most part.  For a pair of our own to move to the far east and remake their lives is quite a phenomenon.

We’re a little bit scared for them.

We’re a little bit envious of them.

We’re a whole lot sad for ourselves.

“It’s going to be a honking big empty crater in MY life,” one of C.’s friends confided.  “C is always the one who calls up and says “Are you in the mood for a field trip?”  and I say “of course,” and off we go, not knowing where we’ll end up.  I don’t know anybody else like that.”

Neither do I.

But one thing I’ve learned in the last ten years is that relationships can survive long distance.  Thanks to modern technology, even China is within the realm of reachability.   They may not allow Facebook over there (they don’t), but there are VPN (virtual private networks) and  also Skype for chatting real time (audio and type).  I know I’ll be “seeing” my friends fairly often over the next three years.  No, it won’t be at coffee hour after church, or at Red Robin for a burger after the guys’ concert, but we’ll keep our ties of friendship close.  They’re  worth the extra effort to make sure that happens.

Even though we have to say 再见 (goodbye) for a while, I have a feeling fortune will bring us together as friends once again somewhere down the road.

And I’m already looking forward to that day.





9 thoughts on “So Off They Go…

  1. You must be feeling better! Well, at least well enough to go out in public. I’m really glad.

    Speaking as one who pulled up stakes and headed off to Africa, I suspect it’s a lot easier for them than for you. If their experience is anythng like mine, the to-do list and the logistics have taken up most of the nervous energy.

    Besides – when I was in Liberia, the only way to get in touch with someone in the States was via HAM radio and a phone patch. Thursday night at 8 p.m. anyone who needed to place a call would trundle down to the radio shack (yes, that’s what we called it!), the pilot/radio operator would place a HAM call to the States and the person there (usually in North Carolina, as I recall) would place the long distance call. Unless it was a true emergency, this always was arranged by mail ahead of time, so the person would be home.

    Once I got there, I talked to my folks maybe every month the first year, and then every other month after that. Otherwise, we made do with mail, which came into Monrovia, and then was brought back to the bush hospital when someone made a trip down.

    So it’s a new world – I think I’m glad I went when I did. I’m wondering now if experiences like that didn’t help turn me into someone who doesn’t give a flip about facebook and such.

    • I can’t even imagine the courage it took to do that. How old were you? That experience must have had a huge impact on your life forever.

      I do think it’s “easier” for those going than for those who are “left behind.” The logistics, the excitement, the anticipation about something new certainly balance (if not overcome) the anxiety about leaving the familiar.

      Still, I think it’s a bit more complicated when your 60-ish than when you’re in your 20’s or 30’s.

      • I had to get out the paper and pencil – I was 28. Truth to tell, there was less anxiety about that move than about starting my own business when I was 44. When I went to Liberia, I still was guaranteed a paycheck. 😉

  2. Yes, the stakes are far easier (and less high) to pull up, when you’re younger. But sometimes it isn’t possible. A big hurrah to your friends for their courage in beginning a new life, even if temporarily, in a vastly different part of the world. I wish them good fortune!

    • They really inspire me – I’m not sure I could take quite that big a leap, but I’d like to have an opportunity for at least a little one 🙂

  3. Something I learned from having been an exchange student (and an expat) is that you’ll always meet again. The first times I had to say goodbye I was literally sick & depressed, convinced it was an eternal goodbye. Now I’ve learned to trust that our paths will cross again.

  4. That is so terrific — good for them! I’m not sure I have the guts to do that — I’ve lived in the same town forever, and while I could say “Sure, I’ll go somewhere for a few months — maybe even six” I don’t know I could pack up my world and move “for good.” I’d need an end-date and if I didn’t stick with it, maybe all the better!

    But I do know what it feels like to be left — sometimes it doesn’t matter whether it is across the world or across country — it’s hard to stay put when someone is starting an amazing adventure — especially when it is someone you will miss because you just like them. I’m sad for you. Glad for them.

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