When I was first accepted to serve in China, I imagined being on a team of several strong believers and families who would simulate family for me, providing both my social and emotional stability in a foreign country.
I never imagined that I would be in a remote city--with ONE teammate.
It is now ten years later and I just hugged Carolyn goodbye with yet another "See you sometime" farewell. She is on home leave for six months and was able to stay with my family and I for a couple days. It felt like China was last year instead of five years ago as we talked about our Chinese friends, laughed about ridiculous memories and discussed how the city has changed over the years.
This is one way that I am grateful for aging--for the distance to finally pause and look back, just as a runner runs out and is then surprised to look at how far they have come--and the beauty of the view from here.
|Leslie & Carolyn, August 31, 2005|
Carolyn and I are about as different as you can get. She grew up in a boarding school in Pakistan and really only lived in the U.S. during college. She is an introvert, loves cats and pours herself into a few relationships. I, on the other hand, grew up in the U.S., am an extrovert, and have been accused of being a "friend collector." But, though it was an unlikely friendship, we complimented one another in a way that made the "team" work.
Even now, I often think of Carolyn during the holiday season. We strove to create some semblance of normalcy when we were far from our home cultures in a place that had no concept of Thanksgiving or Christmas apart from cheesy Santa heads pasted up in storefront windows and gaudy fake Christmas trees in every color but green.
We would plan Christmas parties with our fellow teachers and have a large meal with as much Western food as we could make using our tiny convection ovens. On Christmas, we would read through the Christmas story, sing carols and drink hot chocolate. My first Christmas in China, I worried about loneliness, but now that I am back in the states, I have actually missed how meaningful Christmas felt when I was far from the holiday clutter.
One or two Easters, we climbed the local mountain (hill) for an Easter sunrise service--just the two of us. I still remember huddling down as it began to snow and we sang hymns over the hillside. Behind us, we heard wails of mourning as a funeral procession ascended. It was such a contrast to the joy of resurrection to hear the hopeless cries of those who had no hope in death.
The city we lived in did not have a legal church, so our only option for a Sunday church service was for us to worship together. We'd take turns choosing a Scripture passage, download a sermon to listen to and sing hymns together along with Cyberhymnal on the Internet. We were often off key, but we stayed fully engaged in the service because we WERE the service.
Life was so simple.
Though I panicked when I heard that I would only have one teammate, God knew what He was doing. Carolyn was steady, selfless and showed me how to build lasting relationships with those we rubbed shoulders with on a daily basis. She encouraged me to take advantage of opportunities to visit my students at their homes in the countryside and take trains and buses to explore China.
She was respectful of China, yet she had a great sense of humor and we would spend hours laughing about making fools of ourselves or about the quirks of Chinese culture. And her introverted personality gave me the understanding I would need to prepare me for my future husband, who is also an introvert.
|Leslie & Carolyn, November 7, 2015|
Like so many friends since I got married five years ago, we haven't kept in touch as I would have liked, but she is of the "pick up where you left off" variety of friends that I am increasingly grateful for the more narrow and insular my life becomes.
And for a friend collector, this one is definitely a keeper.
Labels: China, friendship, my story