It's always quite lovely to get a nice yet completely random email from someone you once briefly loved out loud but let go with a smile. It's especially nice when it's a heartfelt hello. He writes from the other side of the planet:
"Hi. I miss you. You've been in my head. I look at the women here and see your smile in them. I watch them in their traditional dancing, and see you laughing and dancing among them. I think you would love it here. What's it going to take to get you to visit?"
He happened to be working in Vietnam and vacationing in Thailand when the tsunami hit two years ago. He was way out in the sea on a diving trip. A seasoned water person, he says that the water was choppy and unfriendly that morning. By the time he was heading back in for the day, thousands of bodies and debris started floating towards the boat. He said it felt like something out of the Bible. When he finally made it back to the land, everything familiar to him was gone, including two good friends of his who didn't feel like diving with him that day. The minute his feet regained the earth, he began working on recovery efforts. And he never did find his friends. But I suppose, in a way, he found his purpose. He's been there ever since. At this point, he has no plans to leave.
I don't miss much about life before Thailand. But I do miss the sweetness and complexity of you. I miss watching your mind work when you think no one is paying attention. The other day, I saw a little girl in my village light up and clap her hands they way you do when you get excited about something. I miss that about you. I miss watching your self-awareness of time and space, how these things have a way of bending around you when you walk through a room. You don't command an audience intentionally, but time and space holds you in rapture along with the rest of us. You realize it, and yet you don't. This is what I miss most about you--how when you realize that someone is watching, you give yourself a goofy, half-confused smile and nervous half-laugh like maybe you should have been paying closer attention, but then brush it all off as a moment of weirdness and keep going on. I miss your hilarious laughter and ability to hold the world in your heart as you do. So few women in our generation know what it's like to be hopeful, much less radiant and full of life.
After the initial news of what happened, we didn't hear from him for a while. Our mutual friends called me in various states of alarm, wanting to know if he'd contacted me. After three weeks, everyone was convinced that we'd lost him. His parents started making funeral arrangements. Call it crazy intuition, or optimistic denial, but I knew that he would surface eventually. Tragic things happen every day, but I somehow think that when a person is living according to his purpose, even the biggest of cataclysmic events can't stop him from serving his call. In fact, risks don't seem so risky when you know that you'll either land on your feet or you won't. And if you don't, then oh well, at least you were living according to your call.
I like to think that he was meant to be in Thailand at that very moment, not just for the lives he actually saved in the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, but because of the lives he will continue to positively impact for the rest of his life. He's special. Not because he's any more special than anyone else out there, but because he's listened deeply to what is in his soul, and responded to it the way he feels is right for him.
Of course, long before the tsunami, I was aware of this when we parted. I could see the long-off horizons in his eyes, and knew that he had much bigger and important things to do than hang around with silly me. I think he knew it, too. He belongs to the world, and not to me. And this is exactly why I let him go.
Still, at the very least, it's awfully nice to be missed for all of the right reasons.