Monday, August 26, 2013

The Revolving Door of Friendship

There was a foreign born man living in a small city in India. He ran a long-term youth hostel near a local college which was often completely full of his countrymen who were studying at the college. He himself had studied at the university and opened his hostel right after he graduated. At first, the young man was thrilled to spend so much time around people his age who spoke his language. They became a close knit group and the man spent most of his time in their company. But after a year or two, his countrymen graduated and left the hostel. He felt sad at first, but they were always replaced by a new group of people with whom he would soon become close. He continued exactly in this way as the years rolled on. But it became harder and harder for him to become close to each new group of friends. He began to feel like something was missing, and he noticed that although he grew older and older, his friends always remained the same age.

As I bring to close the first full year of my time on the JET program, I am reminded of this feeling. Our contracts on the program are for one year increments, and while you can choose to stay another year, many people do not, or cannot. So every year in August a large group of people step out of your life, and another equally large group steps in to replace them. It's a revolving door of friendship that is built into the program. I knew this was true, but I had yet to actually see it until now. It's especially strange because many of the people that left with me from the same place are now returning back while I remain here. It almost feels like missing the bus, somehow. Like I got left behind.

I do not regret my decision to stay, and actually I am insulated from most of the heartbreak of losing friends because I am so far away from everyone else anyway. But still it is strange to be brought together with people from all over the world who are constantly walking in and out of your life. Added to that is the fact that after they leave, it becomes very difficult to see them again. Even back in Kentucky, some friends got busy with life and dropped off the map. Imagine how much harder it would be to see a busy person who lives in Australia or Ireland? Even ignoring the immediate time limit put on the friendship, still some part of you is always asking: If I'm going to invest a lot emotionally into this relationship, how am I going to make it last after I go back home?

With something like the JET program, which brings together people from all over the world on a contractual obligation, it is to be expected. But you don't necessarily expect that you will spend your time exclusively with this group. Or at least, I didn't consider that we would be pushed together by the fact that most of us aren't fluent in Japanese and there is a low concentration of English speakers closeby. So most JETs aren't spoiled for choice, really. We're thrown together by circumstance and then, when our time is finished we scatter like leaves.

So what can you do? If you write off every friendship as a waste just because it might end, then you miss a lot of chances to enrich your life through interesting interactions. Even though people will come in and out of your life, they still weave an intricate quilt that becomes as much a part of you as your hair color or height. So that even as you finish a peice or a patch, you are still adding something valuable to the whole of your experience.

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