After the recent death of my second oldest friend I was moved to follow my own advice and call the one guy I’ve known literally my whole life. We grew up two houses apart and are blessed with a closer friendship now than any time since we were kids.
We talked for over an hour, bringing each other up to date, often to raucous laughter, on the wives, kids, grandkids, and ourselves. At some point in the conversation he asked, “Are you two in Ecuador for the long haul?”
I told him if he meant “forever” then my answer was, “I have absolutely no idea.” Never could I have predicted our moves from Atlanta to Charleston to Las Vegas and certainly not to Ecuador. But for the foreseeable future, whatever that means, we have every intention of remaining here. Furthermore, I told him, if this doesn’t work out we still don’t see ourselves returning to the States to live again.
“Because it’s too expensive here?” he wondered. There’s no doubt that’s why almost all gringos, including us, are no longer in the US whether they admit it or not. But as I was replying affirmatively to his question a new thought came to me.
I said, “You know what? Even if money wasn’t an issue, even if I could live the same retired lifestyle there I still don’t think I’d go back permanently.”
Here’s why. I went to a party last week with at least 40 people in attendance. A couple of days later I went to another gathering of about 20. There was only one other person besides me at both events. I knew most everyone, and that’s not nearly all the folks I know.
Even better I like these people, and many of them at least pretend to like me. We’re from different backgrounds and socioeconomic levels. We’ve got beliefs in everything from Jesus to shape-shifting reptilians. But the more diverse the better, I say, because it makes personal interaction so much more interesting.
Is it not the height of boredom to have a long conversation which someone who agrees with everything you say? Wouldn’t it be a lot more efficient to just cut out the other person and talk to yourself?
I asked my friend if he could envision any way, short of moving to a Del Webb community or joining one of those nondenominational megachurches, to duplicate the vibrant social network we enjoy here. He and I were both stumped for an answer.
Cynthia and I weren’t exactly social butterflies in our previous life. “Social caterpillars” would have better described us. While raising the kids our friends, with many of whom we remain close, were seat mates in the bleachers for games and auditoriums for performances. Then dual careers left us too spent, even if we had the desire, to devote the time and energy to many deep friendships.
We get to Cuenca and, surprise, people have the time and the interest. Maybe we always really wanted to enjoy the company of more people but never gave ourselves permission. Whatever the reason, we cherish so much getting to spend quality time and really knowing our friends way beyond the thin veneer of the old “So, what do you do, Edd?” cocktail party patter.
You can study all the guide books, websites, and blogs, saturating yourself with information about Cuenca’s weather (it still sucks, by the way), housing, medical care, and cost of living. The rich social fabric of this place is something you have to experience firsthand, and it reveals itself to you slowly as you relax into the rhythm of life here. It has been our biggest surprise and has added a valued new dimension to our lives.
The positive takeaway from my friend’s death is a renewed appreciation of how important our relationships truly are. And a thankful heart to be living in a place that has filled our world with so many wonderful people. Thank you, Jack. And thank you, Cuenca.