Tonight, Jeanne and I had a three-way Skype conversation with Alexey, our Russian friend from the land Down Under. We’ve had several missed calls to each other over the past month and haven’t had much of a chance to catch up with him. He caught us up on all the things he’s been up to: he finished his class, he got his motorbike license, he picked up the violin, which he hasn’t played since he was a young boy. I suddenly remembered all of the bits of Australia that I had unknowingly discarded. It was as if they were bright and shiny souvenirs that I had discarded, but suddenly discovered tucked away safely in a forgotten shoebox.
It’s really strange how the memories of a place can be wrapped up in the friendship with one person. And it isn’t until you’re around that friend that you unlock all the memories you have of a place, of a time.
I remembered how fast and crazily Alexey swerves and parks his car, defying all laws of physics when doing so. I remembered how his bird Petrovich can speak five languages. I remember him telling us stories about growing up in Russia and how it wasn’t cool to play a violin, and Russian boys think it’s better to pick up a gun than a four-stringed instrument. I remembered when he took us to his “favorite spot” at Maroubra Beach on a windy Sydney winter night and we shared sandwiches and split a beer while the wind bit our noses and whipped around our feet.
For some reason, I suddenly remembered our last bittersweet weekend in Australia, when Jeanne and I decided to drink every last drop of Sydney, splurging and renting a car, visiting the Northern Beaches, down to Watson’s Bay and the South Head, wandering one more time through Bondi Beach and its fabulous market, going to three Hillsong services, eating a Lebanese feast with Dave and Bec, and amazing flourless chocolate cake in some restaurant in Glebe.
Every moment was cherished. Every conversation we knew would be our last. Every moment of music we drank in, greedily.
Jeanne just wrote a blog which I found to be very thought provoking. She quotes the lovely Brothers Karamazov, a certain question between two Russian brothers. She wrote about this idea of leaving and saying good-bye. And how we let good-byes shape the way we treat people. The way we treat life.
A dear friend of mine is wrestling with some severe health issues. She seems so aware of her fragility, her mortality, these days.
“I could die.”
Without warning, this thought suddenly shot through my heart as I sat there listening to her: We all could die. We’re all an inch away from death, in many ways. A slip in the bathtub, unexpected cancer, a wreck on the highway. Death, I imagine, is a lot closer then we would like to pretend. The possibility of death hovers around us constantly whether we realize it or not. Maybe not a grotesque caricature like the Grim Reaper, but certainly as an unwelcome, unpredictable guest.
This afternoon, I sat in stand-still rush hour traffic in the pouring Florida rain and decided to sync my iPod with my Macbook. Probably not the smartest thing to do in traffic. The thought occurred to me that I could probably die doing that as well.
I wonder if we could truly wrap our minds around how close we were to death at any given moment, would we realize how close we also are to life? The same inch that separates us from death is the same inch that so often separates us from truly experiencing life with freedom and purpose.
I’ve just spent the last five months traveling throughout a country where many people dream all their lives of going. I quit my job for an adventure and I found one. I [literally] hiked through canyons, road-tripped through a coastal highway, went skydiving, swam in the Great Barrier Reef [one eye infection later], slept under the stars of the outback. Surely I, the world-traveler, would have a firmer grasp on living life to the fullest?
I don’t. In fact, I’m learning more and more how much I have to learn, how inadequate I am, how I so often fail at loving people the way Christ loved people. Just because I’ve loved a beautiful country to the fullest extreme doesn’t mean I’ve learned how to love people in the same way. I am learning–by God’s grace–I am learning. I have learned about faith, hope and love from a beautiful church community in Sydney. I have learned about saunas and exuberance from a crazy Russian. I learned about family from a Polish Puerto Rican and about friendship from a Irish Georgian. I have learned from families and hostels and houses and memories scattered all across Oz’s rugged terrain.
But it certainly is strange, after all this traveling, to have been returned to a place of unknowing at the very place I started at. And so many of the lessons I learned unexpectedly over the past few months are being put through the fire. To the test. Repeatedly.
I don’t want to have to leave a place in order to love it. And I don’t want to have to miss [or lose] people before I love and appreciate and know them as they are.