"I have lost friends, some by death... others through sheer inability to cross the street." Virginia Woolf, The Waves
I went to Hanoi, Vietnam towards the end of 2004 with my friend, Angela.
I had known Angela since we were fifteen. A lot of things happened in between and we lost touch for several years, until the middle of 2004. I was re-examining my life and I had decided to see if I could renew some old friendships that I had allowed myself to lose through neglect or misplaced pride.
The Hanoi trip was relaxed and we talked. A lot. We had a lot of catching up to do for my six years absence. I think we have never been so honest with each other until the Hanoi trip. I finally told her the reason I walked away from our friendship, and why I had decided to come back. Angela listened, and I think she understood.
As she told me about her new married life, I was happy for her. The couple (Angela and her husband) make it a point to visit their parents and grandparents at least once a week for dinner ― no matter how busy they were, even if it meant sacrificing time alone with each other. They could see that their weekly dinners meant a lot to their parents and grandparents than just a meal - for parents and grandparents, it was the highlight of their week. It was about family.
That she could see this so clearly, reminded me of why we became friends. I always thought of Angela as a better person than me. She was motivated, intelligent, honest, generous and kind. (Well, she was also the one who highlighted all the dirty bits in Lady Chatterley's Lover for me back in school. ;p) Life has rewarded her with a husband who loves and respects her ― and who is willing to take care of her family with the same love and concern.
I am glad to have her back in my life, and grateful that she was willing to have me back as a friend.
The truth is, Angela and I were planning for a Sri Lanka trip in December 2004. There were some nice beaches in Sri Lanka, and I was seduced by the brochures of sea and sand.
But when we went to the travel agent, we were told return flights from Sri Lanka are only available after Christmas. So, if we choose to go to Sri Lanka, we will have to spend Christmas in the exotic Buddhist country with the lovely beaches.
I was okay with spending Christmas in Sri Lanka. Then I noticed Angela was hesitant. She told me plainly that she would prefer to spend Christmas back home with her family. So we changed our travel plans for Hanoi instead. As I have mentioned earlier, we enjoyed ourselves in Vietnam. I fell in love with the people and the culture. I will definitely be returning to Hanoi in the near future.
We came back from Hanoi happy. Spent Christmas with our families. And woke up one day to the Asian Tsunami that struck the region on Boxing Day. Sri Lanka was one of the countries affected by the tsunami.
A few weeks later I was at Angela and her husband's place for a gathering. She asked me then: If we have gone to Sri Lanka instead, would we have been caught in the tsunami?
"Duh. Yes," I told her. I reminded her there was no return flights until after Christmas. Angela was pensive for a moment, then she just shrugged.
What was not mentioned was that we skipped Sri Lanka because Angela had wanted to spend Christmas with her family. That she made holidays with family a priority was the real reason we were not caught in the tsunami, and perhaps the reason we were both still alive today.
When I talk about my friend, Angela, I like to tell people about how we escaped the tsunami. Of course, I might have dramatised it a little. This however does not diminish the admiration I have for Angela and how she has always been able to see the truly important things in life ― her family, her husband, her friends.
In my previous life, I have walked away from friends, and sometimes I lose them through neglect and inability to stay in touch ― the "sheer inability to cross the street" as Woolf puts in. I have had regrets, even as I admit there are some relationships that proved toxic and I am better without them.
Our friendship should nurture the best in us, help us grow as a person. A friend like Angela reminds me I should be spending more time with my family. Her presence is also a reminder of how important it is to listen without judgement. There is a difference between indifference and non-judgement ― I have often noticed the former is mistaken for the latter.
One night in Hanoi, Angela and I were having dinner in the exquiste Green Tangerine. Then Angela asked how have I been these past few years. I replied I don't think I have ever felt better about my life.
"Yes," she nodded. "You seem more at peace these days."
"You're not as angry anymore."
It came at a time when I wondered if anything I did to change my life made a difference. It was nice that Angela was one of those who noticed.