We are expats. We say goodbye. A lot.
I could end this post right there and know that I have struck a chord. But I won’t.
If you’re living far from home (or you instinctively use finger quotes when you even say the word “home”) you’ve noticed it. You started this whole thing with a massive (if not universal) round of “goodbyes.” Before you were culture shocked. Before you were homesick. Before you ever felt the sting of being a bumbling foreigner, “Goodbye” was the hurdle you had to jump.
It probably went something like this.
Who knew that there was a skill set for saying goodbye?
But there is. And you got better. Or maybe you didn’t.
Regardless you realized, somewhere along the line, that the first round of goodbyes was exactly that . . . the first . . . and they haven’t stopped since.
Saying goodbye is hard — even when you’re good at it. So signing on (or being signed on) to a life that includes more farewells than you ever could have imagined is, so very often, the darkest, bitterest, most horrible part of the life cross-cultural.
We have spent the past two weeks rediscovering the brightest, sweetest most wonderful part.
I am writing this post under the influence of jet lag having spent some UBER-quality with old friends in Prague. They were the other half of the first double date that my wife and I ever went on. I was their son’s first baby sitter and we lived next door in married student housing. He taught me survival Czech for college credit but all I remembered was “put your hands up and give me some money.”
This trip was my first chance to use that in context.
It was rich to catch up with great friends but it was even richer to take inventory of just how blessed we are with so many great friendships.
I call them “LIFERS” (and in doing so recognize the need to distinguish them from the prison sort).
They are people that we have done life with and connected with on some deep, deep, almost inexplicable level and forged a relationship that will absolutely, unquestionably be life long. They are friends that will always be friends regardless of petty little things like time or geography. Some are family members and we’ve never not known them, some we have grown up with and others we’ve actually spent a remarkably small amount of time with. They are all different but the single uniting feature is that, at some point, it has been hard . . . really hard . . . to say goodbye.
I don’t think you can cram Lifers into a neatly packaged box of easily definable (or even describable characteristics) but here are a few things that I’ve noticed:
Lifers pick up where they left off
There is some kind of wormhole that Lifers step through when they say “hello again”. It’s like the elapsed time since they last said goodbye never happened . . . only it did because you’ve still got those memories and you’ve all grown older but it feels like all of that took place in moments and not years. Catching up on what you’ve missed and reminiscing about your past times together are like red and blue play-dough that get all smashed together in a bluey-red, swirly ball.
It’s weird. But wonderful.
The Lifer connection is not strained by poor communication
There is a security between Lifers that is nether contingent nor fragile. “Hello again’s” are not made awkward by guilt. There is no sense of “I thought we were good friends but you never . . .” There is only, “wow, it’s good to be back together.” You’d think we’d be more ashamed. More apologetic. But there is no need.
It’s unnatural. But refreshing.
Lifers are not threatened by other Lifers
Spending time with some of our favorite friends has got me thinking about just how many favorite friends we have. In fact we loved telling stories of our other favorites to the favorites we were spending time with and we also loved hearing stories of their other favorites. There is real joy and zero jealousy in knowing that our Lifers have other Lifers.
Granted, it might be weird to be in a room with all of our favorites at the same time but the likeliness of that ever happening is slim.
It’s hard to explain. But rock solid.
I mean gut laughing. The kind that hurts your ears. Over simple, ridiculous things. Shared moments that you think are hysterical but the entire population of the universe (with the sole exception of your Lifers) would not.
They would just squint . . . or maybe chuckle because they were embarrassed for you.
You and your Lifers though — you pee in your pants a little bit every time you talk about it.
For example: When I babysat our friend’s son he cried the whole time.
See? You’re squinting. But you should see us laugh (and pee) every single time we talk about it.
It makes no sense. But man it’s funny.
Lifers repeat themselves
When Lifers say “hello again” we have a limited amount of time and the clock starts ticking from the first hug. We also have a limited number of stories to remember because our times together are always short and sweet. So we choose our favorites and we relive them . . . the exact same stories we relived the last time we saw each other and the same stories that will relive again . . . every single time.
I can guarantee that should we all live to be old and senile, that boy’s great grandchildren will know that he cried the whole entire time that I babysat him.
It’s redundant. But it never gets old.
Lifers are worth investment
If your Lifers are like ours they are everywhere — literally spread out across the globe. Unless your bank account is considerably more impressive than ours and you have considerably more free time on your hands than we do, opportunities for reconnection are rare.
So when they come . . . pounce on them.
This time around our Lifers were the ones who opened the door for this to even be possible. We are so thankful they did.
Every Hello Again costs time and it costs money but the return on that investment is impossible to put a tag on.
It’s expensive. But so very worth it.
As a final sidenote I should add that I thought it would be a nice tribute to put pictures of all of our Lifers in this post. Two things stopped me.
• I was afraid I would miss one and they would be like, “oh I see how it is Jerkface” (even though they wouldn’t)
• We’ve got a lot of Lifers. More than I have ever realized.
It’s not a bad problem to have.
Maybe you (like me) have never taken time to count your Lifers. Give it a shot. I would bet you’ll be surprised.
Send them this post and say something like, “Yep. This is you.”
Then start dreaming about your next Hello . . . Again.