LONDON — It’s a strange thing, making friends abroad. There is, quite literally, a ticking clock counting down the days until your only contact with these people is via Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. It’s depressing and whenever one of us mulls over the idea, we quickly shush them and go on living in forgotten frenzy.
When I left Spokane, I’ve come to find, I left more than a city. I left familiarity and family. I left friends who knew what I was thinking with just a glance. I left behind hours spent laughing, days spent lounging, months spent trying to find Spokane’s hidden treasures.
And after 10 hours on a plane, it was all gone.
I stood in Heathrow Airport, alone and small, and felt a rush of independence. Fear soon followed. The knowledge that I knew nobody here and that nobody here knew me was enough to make me want to run back onto the plane and beg them to take me back to what I knew.
But border security already let me through. No going back now.
I waited at the baggage carousel and let the prospect of making new friends weigh me down. I mean, truly, it is a very daunting task. Fake laughter, fake questions, worrying about first impressions, then after you bomb those, worrying about how you can redeem yourself the second time around.
It was only until I was thrown into the tourist-tour-extravaganza of an orientation that I realized that I didn’t leave anything behind in Spokane. A plane ride doesn’t make experiences had and laughs laughed disappear. Those are pieces that have added to the whole of me, but surely there’s room for more. Even my old friends had to once be new.
And so, with my new pack of friends, I tromped around London taking pictures, singing songs about Stonehenge, laughing at yaks, complaining about classes, running to Waitrose to get food and drinks for late-night kitchen parties. I was building around me the familiarities of friendship.
But, as I said earlier, friendship abroad is a strange thing. I knew that the days spent getting closer and closer with them was also time inching closer and closer to another 10-hour plane ride leaving behind these new additions to my life.
I tried to think of solutions. So I looked at costs of planes. Strike one. Three-day road trip, anyone? Strike two. How about everyone just transfers to GU! OK, strike three. I felt like that mouse in Cinderella that tries to stuff as much corn into his mouth as possible only to lose it all. Fine, I know that his name is Gus-Gus. I felt like Gus-Gus.
And then I found it – the perfect solution. I was reading “The Screwtape Letters” on my lunch break at work and a piece of it practically jumped out at me: “Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; only fear, avarice, lust and ambition look ahead.”
The way to love my new friends is not to live in the future, trying to solve the unsolvable and worrying about the unchangeable. Love is living with no preoccupations. Love is ignoring the tick-tock of the four-month clock. Love is singing along to ’80s songs in the kitchen oblivious to the existence of anything else in this world but that kitchen, those songs, and these people.
The friendships that I’ve made here won’t disappear after that 10-hour flight home. They’ll come out in stories and memories and pictures. And with gratitude I’ll look back on these moments, with love I’ll bring them into my present life, with love I’ll refuse to look ahead.
To love is to live.