Ethan arrives in town, my second visitor in a month, attending a conference at Rice while the undergrads are on break. We meet after his session is over, on the grass in Houston’s sunshine. It is seventy degrees, and he, coming from Wyoming, is in shorts and t-shirt, rejoicing at the freedom. It has been years since last we met, on an evening in Shanghai when he had likewise, without direct intention, arrived in the city I inhabited.
Encountering friends from previous ages, from far away places like college, high school, or Tokyo, we drift in two ways. Either meeting becomes more and more an act of presentation, of accounting for the time spent apart, or it is approximately as it ever was, and the conversations gain from the separately gathered wisdom. A teacher now, I do not know what he will appear as, and, biking up on my Haro in sandals and shades, I thrill to see him, unshaven and care-free, his back against a brick wall, sneakers crossed, the New York Times on his lap. He pushes his shades up on his baseball cap and gets up, the Ethan I knew, and we go forward, rather than explaining.
Visits from friends of the second kind, who need no introduction and require no apprehension, are necessary. Planning our lives, in the largest sense of destinations, aspirations and occupations, requires conversation, or is better for it. Speaking of things that are far from now, or may never become real, is an art, that of conjuring a future for ourselves. Out of these conversations come goals, followed by struggle and possibly success. A matter of shaping the future, and one that depends on who we can work with, and talk to. With an ever-expanding circle of friends, well-known and just met, the gift of a few hours with one from years prior is just that, and we sit in the sun outside Valhalla. The beers are ninety five cents, the sun warm, and the conversation of jobs, and purchases, of the cost of things, and living with no income. We talk of girlfriends and travels, of the freedom to go and the reasons to stay. He mentions hand-crafted skis, I show him my hand-crafted bag, and we go round again through teaching and life lessons.
Gifts like these, arrivals of friends from experiences long since past, are the best parts of living so often so far from anything I know. Friday afternoons on grass in the sun with people who are often likewise give us some space to toss around ideas and histories until it is time again to separate. Four years ago the gift was Shanghai’s streets, this week Rice’s empty campus. Our lives happen in between, built out of the hopes first voiced in these discussions.