Tag Archives: Friends

Dreaming of Purple Mountains

I’m not sure when it started, this dreaming of purple mountains. But when I look for you behind closed eyes, I know that’s where I’ll find you.

The mountains have always been purple. Deep purple, dark purple, thick lines, visible brushstrokes. Hints of lavender and a touch of violet or indigo, depending on the light. A painting.

The mountains are gently rolling in some parts and in others, steep and jagged. Sometimes there are clouds, too, tinged with dusky blues and greys. Often a few lingering white puffs across the sky. But sometimes there’s just a vast bright blue. The sun is shining. The grass is soft, the bright green that begs you to take off your shoes and play. 

I’ll see you in the purple mountains, I think before I fall asleep.

Behind my eyelids, we’re skipping up the hill and we’re laughing.

Neither of us are strangers to this place, to this watercolor illustration out of a children’s story.

But where did it come from? The first time I said it out loud, I knew it was right.

Where did it come from and, more to the point, how did I know you’d see what I saw? Where do you come from? What lives have you lived? 

Who are you? And who am I?


I live in a world where we say goodbye on the last day of school in June. Not just, “Goodbye, have a good summer, see you in August.” There’s some of that, certainly, but there’s also, “Goodbye, friend, as you journey to another part of the world. Maybe we’ll meet again one day.”

Maybe we will. 

It’s hard to send off the colleagues who have become friends and friends who have become family. I hope they all find their own purple mountains, the realization of dreams both articulated and hidden, wishes both acknowledged and buried. 

Yesterday I told a friend, “I hope it’s everything you hope it will be.”

He replied, “I don’t. I hope it’s everything we need it to be right now, but I’m not done yet.”

I smiled. “Then let me say it again. I hope it’s everything you need it to be right now, and that you voyage on.”


This makes sense to me. It makes sense to keep looking for the purple mountains in whatever form they take. It makes sense to dream of them and find that I’m not the only one up there dreaming. I’m not the only one up there looking and imagining and creating.

I know too many people who stopped looking. Maybe that’s the right decision for them and I certainly respect it. But it’s not the right decision for me. I tried to put the dreams aside, to look for purple mountains somewhere else, but I couldn’t find them. In fact, I lost them. For a time, there were no mountains and where they had been was full of holes and erasure dust. I tried to wipe it off but it was hard to see through the smudges. 

The mountains were gone and I drifted in the space where they had been.

The most frightening feeling I’ve ever had was not being able to imagine tomorrow. I remember the first time the mountains were hidden in black.

It’s hard to explain this to people who stopped looking or who found their mountains without much getting in the way. Compared to many people I know, I think I’ve lived a lot. My purple mountains with springy green grass were trampled on once but I am filled with gold bubbles when I dream of them now.

Yes, this is hard to explain. I don’t mind when people don’t understand, and I take responsibility for not explaining very well, but I do mind when others do not respect that the right thing for me to do is keep looking.


Sometimes I think I’ve found you. And having worked so hard to get back there, how could I let you go?

When I close my eyes, maybe I’ll see you and learn of the lives you’ve lived. You’re right there beside me, dancing up the purple mountains into the white cloud blue sky, barefoot in the grass. You believe in a world that might exist in a children’s story.

How did I know you’d see what I saw?

Neither of us are strangers to the purple mountains. Maybe they won’t always be everything I hope they’ll be, but maybe they’re everything I need them to be right now.

And then we’ll voyage on.

Kandy, Sri Lanka – April 2016

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.