Tag Archives: Friends

A Tale of Two Friendships

The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend. – Henry David Thoreau

I’ve been thinking recently about the nature of friendship. What does it mean to be a friend? What does it mean to have friends? When do the people in our lives go from being acquaintances to much more? How is it that sometimes our friendships are no longer? Who would we be without them?

These questions have been playing in the back of my mind because of two particular friendships that have affected me in very different ways. Through one, I learned to let go; through the other, I learned to open up.

Letting Go

It wasn’t until we’d known each other for a few months that we tried to figure out how we became friends. She claimed it was a discussion we had about our childhoods but I really can’t pin it down. I remember that conversation and I remember a warm glow, a sense of excitement wrapped in a feeling that yes, this was right and good.

We remained close even when I moved away. We’d Skype every so often and remained aware of what was going on in each other’s lives. We shared secrets, as friends do, and that made it easy to continue on like nothing had ever happened once we were back in the same city.

The change was gradual. Looking back, I can see the writing on the wall. I can see the distance and the vagaries, the inconsistencies and the preference for other people and other activities. Our interests diverged, which happens, and our friendship faded into memories or got caught up in other pursuits. There are only so many times I can reach out before I’m spent and need to let go to stay afloat.

As Nel Noddings has so eloquently written, there’s a difference between caring for and caring about. Caring is relational and caring for requires two parties; caring about, on the other hand, does not require the knowledge of the second party. I have learned to let go of caring for but refuse to give up on caring about.

Like caring, friendship is relational. Sometimes those relationships end and we don’t always know why. But caring doesn’t have to end. Caring about others on the basis of their human-ness, when that’s all that’s left, is simply the right thing to do.

Opening Up

Two people have told me I’m guarded. They’ve both been right, though only one took the time to find out why. To take down walls, he said, because he wanted to understand what they were and why they were there.

This friendship blossomed over time and then suddenly washed over me, immersed me in something so natural I don’t know how I ever failed to see it. There was a shift one day and we’ve both looked back to recognize it.

There developed a mutual wish to spend time together, a wish first uttered tentatively and then with growing confidence. I found myself laughing a lot, remembering a lot, sharing stories of who I was and what had shaped me. I shared my hopes and dreams, curiosities and fears. I found myself wide open, vulnerable, and free.

And I listened, too, which is probably the thing I do best. I asked questions and I learned. Life through the eyes of another has always been compelling to me.

Responsiveness made all the difference. Even with disagreement, there was a shared attempt to understand the other’s perspective. The idea was not to be right or prove a point but to look at the world with more nuance and complexity. Discussion came from a foundation of unconditional love and trust.

And I found myself wide open.

It takes time to rewire the brain to behave differently. We were patient with each other because openness was simply the only answer, the only way to be. I watched myself become a better person because a friend had taken the time to show me that I could be.

On Friendship

Our relationships take many forms because we are complex and have many needs. Friends are part of our journey, part of who we are.

Like many people, I have friends I’ve known for most of my life and friends I’ve just met. I have friends who I can call crying and friends who reappear when I least expect them. I am very lucky to have friends who are there for me without question, who know me well enough to slap me around when I’ve done something irresponsible, and who wait with open arms once I’ve figured myself out.

Once upon a time, three friends saved me. I will be forever grateful for that.

Nothing lasts forever and friendship is the same. Friendships wax and wane, draw closer and yet seem so far away. Like seasons, their tastes, textures, and scents can change, sometimes very quickly. Sometimes we gradually slide in and out of our friendships, holding hands or drifting away, not knowing where we begin or end. And sometimes we crash, sometimes into each other and sometimes into a door that has closed. Sometimes our knocking goes unnoticed.

And yet I wouldn’t choose any other way. As much as anything else, my friendships have made me who I am and taught me about the type of friend, the type of person, I want to be. We do not walk this life alone.

I am better for having called you a friend and for being a friend of yours in return.

Running to; running from

I always said I’d live abroad but I never imagined doing it.

I was very close with my family growing up, even largely getting along with my parents when that wasn’t cool. I heavily weighted “distance from home” when choosing a university and moved back after graduation because I didn’t know where else to go. Many of my happiest memories are with my family, which is why many people thought it out of character when I moved halfway around the world.

A few years ago, a friend mentioned the strangeness of people who choose lives abroad. There are relatively few of us, though the number is growing. Our common ground is simply that we’ve made the decision to leave home. No one gets here by accident.

Over the course of a different conversation much later, the same friend commented that many of us are running; some are running to while others are running from. But, he said, only some of us have acknowledged it. This has played in the back of my mind for over a year because, in retrospect, that’s it. That’s the answer.

Curiosity

I’ve always been curious about what else is out there. I spent hours as a child poring over the 1995 edition of Children Just Like Me and I wanted to meet all of them. I wanted to talk to them, learn their languages, taste their foods, see their world. I was fascinated by diversity, though I didn’t yet know the word. I just knew that there was a lot more to see than my immediate environs.

As an adult, I know that my parents made financial decisions to allow us to travel as a family. They showed me that the world was accessible, navigable, and wonderful. I learned that while it might not be easy, it would work out, whatever it was. My parents smiled when I told anyone who would listen that I wanted to see it all. They smiled when I bought a car with a manual transmission that I didn’t know how to drive because I wanted to be ready.

But travelling and moving are very different things.

Running To

I had a job, a Master’s degree, a long-term boyfriend. I lived in my town’s coolest neighborhood with a great roommate and other friends nearby. My family was a mere 12 minutes away by car. (It took a number of lesson-arguments with my dad, but I learned to drive a manual.) Continuing on the current trajectory would have been easy and obvious.

I don’t do very well with easy and obvious. I wanted the novelty, adventure, and excitement of living and working somewhere new. I wanted to minimize my possessions and figure out what really mattered. I wanted to speak new languages, meet new people, and wake up to a different sky.

Back then, I thought the world was really big. Now, I know it’s actually quite small.

When I first accepted a job in Malaysia for the 2014-2015 school year, I had to double-check a map. I didn’t know the questions I should have asked. I didn’t know the research I should have done. I was determined to go and insistent that it would work out. And if it didn’t, I’d come back. My boyfriend and I bought plane tickets and off we went, completely unprepared for what awaited.

Suffice it to say, we learned a lot. The Malaysia archive on this blog can provide some insight. Even though I cried every single day for a month and then some, I was always glad to be there. And despite everything that went wrong, which almost everything did, I couldn’t imagine leaving a world I’d just begun to explore in earnest. I couldn’t imagine returning to what was easy and obvious.

Running From

All of my friends in Malaysia had worked elsewhere overseas and talked about possibilities, experiences, and impressions of the world that I’d never imagined. During orientation, one mentioned that he didn’t believe in nations; I’d never heard of such a thing and it fascinated me. This is it, I thought.

Back home, there were expectations. There was a path. And somewhere along it, I got scared.

I suspect that’s why I couldn’t go back. After a year in Malaysia, I was planning to move to Singapore where my boyfriend had gone to look (unsuccessfully) for a job. We spent the summer in the US and he prepared to move to New York while I would go to Singapore to give him time to settle. In the airport, I promised I’d only stay for a year. In a year, I’d be ready to return to “real life”.

But I wasn’t.

I did return to the US a year later because I’d promised I would. Maybe I even thought I wanted to. But as the time to departure drew closer, I began realizing that I couldn’t continue life as usual. Perhaps deliberately, I made some decisions that would make doing so impossible.

After a year being single in New York, I moved back to Singapore. I tried to tell myself that I was returning somewhere that still felt like home, but I wasn’t. I was running from the path that I had grown up expecting to follow.

Today I know that path has been abandoned, given up, lost. I’m not running anymore, but I’ve turned so far off the path that it has ceased to exist.

It feels good to breathe.


Just yesterday, a friend sent me a job posting for his school in Beijing. “In case you’re looking to make moves,” he wrote.

At some point I will, but I’m not quite ready right now and that’s okay, too. My contract is up in June and I’ll stay for two more years. At some point, I’ll start looking. Or maybe I’ll stay. A lot can happen in two and a half years; a lot has.

Travel Guide: Athens and Delphi

Don’t spend much time in Athens, they said. There’s not much to see there, they said.

But I loved Athens and wish we’d been able to stay longer! Then again, I studied history in university and taught history until last year so I’m a little bit biased. We were also in Athens in October when it was far emptier of people than it would be during high tourist season. The temperature was also quite cool, which was nice coming from Singapore.

Upon arriving from Santorini late in the afternoon, we headed straight for the Acropolis. It was a beautiful sunny day and the sun cast long shadows on the stone. We entered the Acropolis at 4:15pm and were escorted out when it closed at 6. That’s the one downside to traveling in the offseason – limited hours for many sites and museums. But nearly two hours was enough time, especially because of how empty it was! Many of our photos had no other people in them!

We were already excited on our way up . . .

and then we just stood at stared at Parthenon and ruins around it.

The Erechtheion is really interesting because the statues are copies (the originals are in the museum) in the condition of the excavated originals. so I didn’t actually know until visiting the museum later.

I was also excited to see the Temple of Athena Nike because I remembered studying it in art history in university.

DSC05507

The view from the highest point in Athens (the literal translation of Acropolis is “high city”) was incredible, too.

And we had to sit in the stadium before we left!

Then we visited the Acropolis Museum, home of most of the original statues and artifacts. The floor is glass so we could see the site excavation, which was really neat.

DSC05575

The coolest part of the museum was the top floor, lined with three walls of windows looking out to the Acropolis, housing the original sculptures and frieze from the Parthenon laid out in the dimensions of the actual building.

In terms of its vibe, Athens feels a bit gritty and rough around the edges, like its residents have something to say that only they can understand. And there are amazing views of the Acropolis all around the city.

There are cool hidden gems that I wish we’d had more time to explore and pretty awesome graffiti that seemed a bit more like vandalism than street art.

Athens has a number of neighborhoods full of restaurants and cafés, which is another reason to come back. We saw a few areas that looked really interesting from the windows of our bus ride to Delphi (more below) but spent our evenings in Plaka where we were staying. There was plenty of deliciousness there, including the best ice cream I’ve ever had, so next time I’ll have to see what’s elsewhere, too. And I haven’t had ice cream since.

We were staying basically across the street from Hadrian’s Arch . . .

DSC05667

. . . which is located right next to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Unfortunately, we could only peek through the gates because closing time in the offseason is earlier than was we read online.

The morning of our only full day in Athens, we took a free walking tour with an incredibly knowledgeable guide who literally walked us through the history of Greece from ancient through modern times. (I even made an account on TripAdvisor to write Michael a review when he said that’s how the company determines who gets tours.) It was very cold that day so we looked for sunny spots to stand in at each place we stopped.

We visited Hadrian’s Library . . .

DSC05608

. . . Monastiraki Square and flea market . . .

. . . and the Roman Agora.

DSC05632

For lunch, Michael recommended Bairaktaris Taverna in Monastiraki. It was great and definitely the most local of our meals. And what an experience! The restaurant was large and crowded with tables covered in green-and-white checked cloths. There were large framed photos on the walls and beams leading up to the ceiling of people enjoying their food. At least two walls contained a wide variety of Christian art and the kitchen itself seemed to exist on one long counter at the back where we were sitting and another counter towards the front that may have also been operating a takeaway window. There were tables outside, as well. And to top it off, a three-man band was playing Greek folk songs and a very elderly man, possibly the owner, clapped along every so often. The place has been around since 1879 and it felt like we’d walked into a large family party.

I made the mistake of smiling twice at a line cook, once when I heard him singing and once when I saw him turn a mixing bowl into a drum, and after our gruff yet warm server brought us dessert and mastika on the house, he sent over a plate of lamb kebabs. Adorable, but I’m a vegetarian. (And I instantly had visions of having to break that to him on our third date.) What a country.

After our tour, we continued to follow Michael’s recommendations and went back to visit the Ancient Agora. We started in the museum, which had some interesting artifacts from the site and then walked around. It is really so cool to wander through something so old.

The reason we only spent one full day in Athens was because we wanted to visit Delphi, which was a wonderful day trip. Along the three-hour drive through Mount Parnassus and its environs, our tour guide, Effie, told us in English and French about the city of Athens, pointed out geographic areas of interest, and talked about the lifestyle in the small towns we passed.

When we arrived in Delphi, Effie provided a fascinating history of the oracle and Ancient Greek politics and explained architectural and archaeological features, as well as changes to the site over time.

Effie took us through the Delphi Archaeological Museum, as well. While I could have spent more time there it was good to learn from someone with deeper knowledge than what was written on wall placards.

We stopped for a late lunch at a taverna with beautiful views of the mountains . . .

. . . and then spent a few minutes in the ski town (yes, the only one in Greece) of Arachova.

Then next morning, before we were ready, it was time to go. And we agreed that we’d have to come back.

DSC05532