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.