“I turned my head for a moment and it became my life”
– David Whyte
A Decision for Life
In 1980, I attended Otumoetai College in Tauranga, New Zealand as an AFS student and stayed with a family. When they decided to host a student and when I agreed to live with them, we both only thought about the coming year. My connections to them and the community have continued, however. Some friends traveled with me for months at a time (not long after that year ended), others have visited Chris and me, and others’ kids have come to live with us for a year away while working in Minneapolis.
What I thought was a year-long event turned out to be a life of richness, meaning, happiness, and great friendship.
Measuring Stick of Time
Each return to New Zealand (once a decade or so) serves as a measuring stick of sorts. I reflect on where I am and how my life is going. Am I meeting my expectations for myself? Do I like the decisions I have made and the life I have created? How have I put my talents to use? How have I pursued and found happiness and meaning? On this most recent trip, I felt positive about how I measured up, which put me in a good frame of mind for seeing old friends.
The Flood of the Unexpected
I am now on Air New Zealand heading back after a week spending time with my host family and hanging out with friends who have experienced 33 more rotations of the Earth around the sun. Each time I leave, I wonder if I will see them again. Somehow I have, with only a few very sad exceptions. On this visit, Colin Smith (my host Dad) was not there to greet me. He was a bigger-than-life man. He taught me to enjoy rum and coke (among many other things), and every time I take a sip he comes rushing to mind. On this visit, I went to celebrate his son Gary’s 50th birthday at the Tauranga Yacht Club–a place Colin envisioned and built, and where Gary (a dear friend) now serves as Commodore.
I suspect that many friends and loved ones will not be alive on my next trip back; some are in their 80s. When I said goodbye, I said it with more permanence and a hug that lingered just a bit longer. My heart aches from the joy that they have added to my life and knowing that it may be the end of an event that has lasted two thirds of my life. Yes, they will live on in my heart, but somehow it is just not the same.
Enduring vs Transactional Relationships
As we sat over a Turkish lunch, my dear friend Mary Atkinson and I philosophized, as we often have when we are together, on what it is that makes some relationships endure even with years of absence and others feel as transactional as a game of rugby on the prep-school playground. We left feeling it was when somehow you connected well below the surface of everyday life–a place where your being is of greater importance than your actions. You show up as beautiful to the other. As Gary and LeeAnn Smith added, it likely is not a one-way connection. Both sides must allow the vulnerability of transparency to connect them.
Do you continue to nurture and make enduring relationships, or do you find yourself mainly engaging in transactional ones? What motivates your decisions? When do you allow yourself to be transparent?
While it’s not always possible, I prefer long-standing relationships to transactional ones. The quality and depth that comes from those strings form a tapestry that is so beautiful.