Connectedness

A few years ago, my ex asked me who I’m closest with: friends from home, friends from school, or friends from abroad.  I never answered him, but I’ve since thought of that question on occasion, and I have come to the conclusion that I’m not more or less close to each of the groups; the levels of friendship and connection are just so different.  These people are part of significant phases of my life, and perhaps each group knows me in a different way than the others.

My friends from home have known me since I was ten years old, and they have, no doubt, seen me grow the most.  These people have watched me change, and vice versa.  There’s something about growing up constantly surrounded by the same friends, seeing slow evolutions in each other, and sharing experiences that shape us both as individuals and as a system.  All of this transforming brought us to a level of friendship that can only be achieved with time.  And all of this time has brought us ups and downs that only continue to bring us closer.  They are my cornerstone, the building blocks of who I am, the very core of where my growth began, and one of the main ingredients to my happiness.  My friends from home are the ones I am glad to always have.  No matter how far down the road, I know I will have them to come home to.

It was hard to imagine who my college friends would be and what role they would play in my life until I found them.  Turns out, they’re some of the best friends to have around.  College friends get to know you in incredible ways–at house parties and bars, hungover in dorms, during all-nighters at the library, and every other second in between.  These are friends who live with you–sometimes literally–and get to see who you are while you’re in the process of finding yourself and potentially, who you’re going to be for the rest of your life.  They are there to watch you overcome the most difficult challenges you will ever face, and if you’re lucky, they’ll be right next to you every step of the way, making the same exact horrible decisions.  I have formed unbreakable bonds with my college friends, and with them I’ve learned how little time can affect friendship.  They are my support networks and secret-outlets, my squad, and the bottom line is that they get to know me better than most people ever do.

Sigh.  Sevilla friends.  These are people with whom I have created an entirely new bubble of friendship.  They are there, living in the stories that I will be telling for the rest of my life.  These friendships formed exceptionally fast, and I think that might be the reason for our extremely high comfort levels with each other.  Suddenly I found myself in a foreign country with just a suitcase and this group of people to hold on to.  And I did.  We all did.  Fortunately I don’t think we will ever let go.  What we’ve been through were some of the best moments of our lives, and that is not something to be taken lightly. We’ve seen the world, pushed through borders and boundaries, and fell in love with the same city together. Through all of this, and in less than half a year, what we did was more than travel. We left parts of ourselves with each other, in all corners of the world, and if that doesn’t bond you for life then I’m not sure what does.

Since this question was posed to me, I entered a new phase in my life which has brought yet another incredible group of people into my life: my Seoul friends. The last three years in South Korea have been life life life, and I couldn’t be more grateful for all my experiences here. I’ve grown part of different communities–teachers, foreigners, local yogis and runners–who have welcomed me and helped me to see the life I’ve built in this country. I hold close the group of friends I made within the first few days of arriving, and I think that through meeting them I became solid in who I already was. We all got to know each other exactly as we were and as we still are, and I have nothing but gratitude for the fact that we loved each other through flaws and mistakes.

Most recently I’ve been thinking about the running and yoga families I’ve come to know and love here in Seoul the last two years. When I first walked into Zen Yoga studio, and first went to an open run for Crewghost, I never thought it would become a completely engrained and habitual attendance. Now I go to my yoga studio 5-8 times and to a crew run at least once or twice, both per week. Spending as much time sharing a mutual passion with a group of people for hours at a time brings you together without even trying–certainly regardless of language. These two communities have brought me joy and support, and a family to back me in the goals that no one else can understand.

As I come to realize that I have just five short months left before a new adventure, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I’ve spent my years with. And as I get ready to leave this group of friends to visit the others, all I can feel is gratitude. To have so much love from around the world. To know that I can turn to so many to receive all kinds of needs. To understand that I can be a different version of myself and still be loved for it. To find that I am open and lucky enough to be able to connect with so many souls. And to recognize that with time, I am changing for the better. How do I know all this? Because each time I come back to all of the people I love, no matter how long it’s been or how far I’ve gone, I never doubt that the love and connection and friendship remain.

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Midnight Run Part Deux

Last week, I went on my second trip with the Midnight Run Organization.  It’s a volunteer organization that provides support for the homeless, whether it is through distributing food, clothing, and toiletries to the homeless on the streets of New York City, fundraising and collecting donations, or lending an ear to listen.

The Midnight Run committee at Hofstra University has been working hard for the last few months to collect donations, advertise, and spread the word about this organization.  I’m so happy to have been part of this experience again.

We collected an insane amount of clothing this year, which was fantastic.  I was in charge of handing out men’s clothing (which is the bulk of what we need because the Run hardly sees women especially on the late night Runs) and it was wonderfully overwhelming to have so much for them to choose from.  I would open up the box of XL sweaters, and their eyes would absolutely light up at their choices.

We had brand name clothing and fancy dress shirts, fleeces, hoodies, and a lot of warm clothes in general.  I really can’t explain how rewarding but even more humbling it is to interact with these people who spend most of their days feeling  judged and ignored.

Our contact/guide at the Midnight Run is Malcolm, who used to be homeless and now is on the board for the Run.  He compared the homeless to children during Christmas.

“When you’re a kid and you get a Christmas present, you feel confident,” he said.  “You walk around like you’re the coolest kid in town because you have that toy or that game.  It’s the same way for these homeless people.  When they find clothing that they like, they feel proud to own it and walk around wearing it.  It’s a self-confidence boost for them.”

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Why wouldn’t you want to see  such a happy face like this one?

All it really takes is a smile, maybe a conversation.  I met a homeless woman  from London.  They called her London–she used to travel between the States and the UK and somehow ended up homeless.  I also met a man from Russia and he was really precious but difficult to understand.  I met a businessman who had a business suit but not a home.

Malcolm also explained to us this concept about how people end up homeless: “Things happen, and things happen quickly.”

That really is all there is to it.  One second you’re on top of the world, and the next you might not know where you’re spending the night.  The thing is, a lot of these people are trying to make a better life for themselves.  They ask me for dress shirts and dress pants so that they can go to job interviews and look professional.  Sure, there are the homeless who are drug addicts and alcoholics but they cannot all be classified within that same category.  It’s unfair to begin with, and rude to end with.  Being homeless is not always a choice.  Putting a life back together is not just something that can be done easily, and I’ve heard it straight from the mouths of the homeless that they want to be better.

At one of the stops, I said hello to a man that I remembered from last semester, and I realize that he was offended when I said I remembered him.  “Yeah I’m still out here,” he said with so much sadness I could feel it no matter how much I tried to ignore it.  I didn’t even know what to say, but he asked me how I was and I felt bad for saying that I was doing well.

I have conversations every day where people say, “How are you?” and I reply with “I’m good, how are you?” and they reply with “Good”.  When I was talking to the homeless that night, I couldn’t help but feel terrible when they couldn’t say the same.  I honestly can’t imagine what it would be like to not be able to answer the classic “How are you?” question with “Good”.

In short, I think it would be wonderful for everyone to open their minds to the lives of other people, both more and less fortunate.  Open the mind, open the heart, and open the soul.  It leads to a greater understanding of others, which leads to a greater understanding of self.