I don’t have a lot to say at the moment, really. I’m sitting here watching World Cup after an evening of packing, and after a week of goodbyes. There’s been a lot of people to say goodbye to. And I’m a person who wants a solid goodbye, some closure to ten months of experiences. Though, I’ve been finding that goodbyes don’t really do justice to such a wealth of shared experiences and memories. How do you sum something like that up in a poignant mini-speech, or the perfect hug, or the subtlety of silence or a few brief words?
I’m finding I can’t, and thus some goodbyes just end up being what they are—maybe a moment that I’ve overhyped that isn’t all that necessary to make those friendships that will no longer be face to face have some meaning. They have meaning, hug or no hug, tears or no tears.
What can I say? It’s been an extraordinary year that flew by, as extraordinary years tend to do. There is much I learned, much I experienced, plenty of formation that has happened, plenty of preparation for the future. I came to China not totally sure what to expect, but with some definite expectations in mind. But as I should have guessed, the most important facet of this year was not the personal revelations, the cross-cultural lessons, the sight-seeing, the job experience, the interfaith dialogue.
It was the relationships. I guess it’s always that. When I think back on each season of my life, I look back most fondly on the people. I define seasons of my life by the community I had in each season. And that’s exactly what I will remember from this season—the Chinese people as a whole, the casual acquaintances I talked with a time or two, and, especially, the friendships that will likely be maintained long beyond China with people who have loved me in their own way and whom I’ve loved in mine.
Yes, I’m ecstatic to come home. I’m getting married this summer. I’m co-pastoring a church plant and moving to a new city to do so. I have friends and family I miss dearly. I have various food and drink items I miss less dearly, but nonetheless miss.
And yes, I’m sad to leave. I anticipate missing China. Maybe I’ll have more to say about that in a few weeks, when I actually feel the missing. But I’m also aware that my time here is done, that I’ve received what I needed to receive from people here and given what I’ve needed to give. For those relationships that will carry on, I have hope for long fruitful friendships, and plenty of future meetings, especially as the world continues to grow smaller. For those relationships that won't carry on, I accept with gratitude all those with whom our paths have crossed, if only briefly.
This week is a mix of endings and beginnings. My physical presence in China is ending, but the work done in my mind and heart here will bear fruit in the future, I’m sure. And it's hard to know or quantify how my time here will continue to impact the people I've encountered...though I've received many notes and comments about ways I've profoundly influenced my students, which has been so touching and sweet.
And I am thrilled at the thought that as my friends here improve their English over the years, our ability to really understand and be understood by one another will grow as we grow. Maybe that is one of my greatest hopes at the moment…that “China,” for me, is not really ending but is much closer to the beginning.
But for all the ways China is ending, I am so deeply thankful for how I've experienced beauty, love, fullness of life, and the Divine through the people with whom I've shared life these past ten months. I am better off because of it all.