August 23, 2016
This weekend was a bit of a whirlwind adventure. We took a red-eye flight Friday evening to Dulles International Airport, just outside of the DC area, and then hopped in a rental to drive two or three hours to Wintergreen, Virginia, where my good friend Mark took the hand of his lovely lady Michelle in marriage. The ceremony was Sunday afternoon; shortly thereafter the trek was reversed: leave Wintergreen at three in the morning, make our way back to IAD for a 7am flight back to San Francisco just over 48 hours after we landed.
Because of the tight turnaround (which admittedly was due to poor planning on my part) I didn’t expect much by way of substance; I assumed all events to be part of a single blur. To be sure, I didn’t get the same appreciation for the event as those who spent the full four nights in celebration. Yet, even in that tiny window, something happened.
I got to speak again to Mark’s parents: his mother, so gentle, and his father, always pleasant. I finally met his older sister, bright and energetic, and loads of super-friendly uncles, aunts and cousins. Truly, Mark is an amalgam of his tribe.
I met Michelle’s family, which I’d never had the good fortune despite knowing her for years. Her mother is a mother—one of those women whom the world revolves around; whose power and influence is only matched by the warm and caring twinkle in their eyes. That twinkle is matched in the eyes of her husband, Michelle’s father, and his kind, affable spirit that quietly charms. Where Mark seems the stew of his family’s ingredients, Michelle (and her older sister) seem to be shaped by the mold of their loving family, fitting their spaces perfectly and completing the portrait of love.
I ran into a bunch of old friends. Though our time with them only overlapped slightly, Michelle and I ran with the many of the same people back in the ’00s, so it was a bit of a reunion seeing friendly faces that I’ve not seen with frequency for nearly a decade. When I moved to the Maryland area, these people and others were my influencers as I trimmed off the rural Delaware fuzz and became a smooth metropolitan dweller. I didn’t expect to encounter my formative years, but there they were, providing a contrast to my current existence.
Of course, there were many people I didn’t know: people who were special to Mark and Michelle in one way or another, who shared stories of adventures in far off lands or even lived in those lands with Mark and Michelle as their work relocated them to various destinations on the globe. A humorous quirk about this couple is the number of places they’ve both lived—and how none of those places they lived at the same time. Friends from a half dozen countries and at least four continents showed up on a mountainside in rural Virginia to celebrate the couple and connect the dots of their lives’ journey.
The wedding was delayed by rain but wonderful atmospheric setting rewarded the wedding party’s perseverance. As the sun set behind patches of clouds, everyone ate on the resort’s stone terrace and listened to family speeches about how lovely the couple were and how hopeful we all were for their future. It was in those speeches that my heart began to gasp—as if it has been submerged for a very long time, and only now had it found itself able to breathe at the surface. Michelle’s father, through his words and stature during his speech, suddenly became (for me) Phil Follett; a hero/mentor from my past who I wish so dearly that I could see again and ask what I should do with my life. The speech of Michelle’s sister called attention to all the work that Mark and Michelle put into the wedding—not to make it a spectacle but to bring us all together and make it special for us as much as (if not more than) for them. Michelle’s own speech spoke to the nature of their own hearts and the decision both have made in committing their lives to serving others through their jobs with humanitarian relief agencies. My heart was breathing again, and I held back tears.
I don’t hate California. I don’t even dislike San Francisco. I dreadfully miss being around people who care for others.
People who welcome strangers into their homes. People who respond to disasters with action. People who look to strengthen others and find that one thing that makes them special. People who carry the burden of their friends, family, colleagues or even casual associates as if they were their own. People who seek to be accessible rather than exceptional; who consider it a joy to be a servant rather than a leader.
For many years I was inexplicably fortunate to be in a circle of individuals who truly cared for the world and its residents, and it was only in this two-day jaunt that I realized how little of the world I’ve experienced since then carries this same spirit. The question now is whether that absence—which I now know I cannot live happily without—is a rarity. Is it found only in pockets of special people sprinkled globally? Or just absent where I am in the bay area, with its chasing of unicorn companies and IPOs and rampant homelessness, unreasonable cost of living and filthy streets?