I turned twenty-nine this month and it dawned on me that I have only one year left with the post calvin. When I started writing on a regular basis back in 2019, I was twenty-five and thirty felt like an eternity away. Now it’s 362 days away. No matter how sure I was it would never happen, it sure is happening—I’m getting older. My legs ache an extra day (or two or three) after I go for a run. I need to stretch more to stay loose. I have no clue what’s trendy, except that I think the kids are into horror movies and games and I don’t know why.
The most difficult thing though hasn’t been coming to grips with my lack of cultural fluency or general decline in stamina; it has been saying slow goodbyes to friendships. College was a practical conveyor belt sushi operation where friends rolled by on a minute-by-minute basis; there were more to pick from than I could ever meet. After graduation I found myself in other intentional communities and workplaces that had great atmospheres for friendship building. Sure I felt lonely from time to time, or homesick for a Founders and a pot roast with Mom and Dad, but the excitement of what was next, and the friends I had around me, brought me through.
I’ve found a place to settle now, with someone I love deeply and look forward to spending the rest of my life with. That feels undeniably good and right, and I have serious gratitude to have found that degree of relational security with a significant other. In settling, though, I left friends behind, and in moving to new places I left others behind, and I guess that’s an inevitable part of spreading one’s life across states and countries. I’m coming to terms with the reality that meeting friends will never be as easy as it was in school.
I’ll be immersed in some ritual task, like brewing tea or making dinner, and flashbacks surface of playing racquetball in Michigan, or of movie nights in a crowded forest service bunkhouse in Aspen, or of stumbling my way from one bungalow to the next on a wine-fueled Costa Rican casita crawl. At night I’ll have dreams of friends I haven’t thought of in years. When I wake up, I carry a nostalgia the rest of the day that aches from the reality that some lives have been lived and some friendships have blurred into foggy memories.
We went out for Thai food on my birthday and ordered Pad Thai. In a quiet moment my mind drifted back to the fall of 2016 when I first visited Thailand to study abroad. My language teacher, Ajaan Thongchai, was showing me how to make Pad Thai from ingredients we had picked up from the market. I didn’t know what actual tamarind looked like before then, much less what it felt like, but soon we were soaking the pods and squeezing the pasty fruit off of the seeds to prepare it for our sauce. The mist of fresh-steamed sticky rice filled the air. Sour tamarind on the tongue. The inescapable humidity of Chiang Mai. Surrounded by classmates, professors, friends.
Ajaan Thongchai and I kept in touch after I left, and when I had the opportunity to visit again a few years later he graciously invited me to stay with him and his wife. We biked through his neighborhood, cooked dinner together, and drank strong cups of oolong tea. He had always cared for me and my five classmates in his language class like we were his nieces and nephews, bringing us treats he’d pick up on his way into school.
As we nursed cups of tea he tested my Thai vocabulary and scolded me for letting my skills fade. “Koon Jon! You need to practice! If you do not practice it will slip away. This is serious.” Two years had passed and I was still his student, as much his pupil in his house as I was when we were first making Pad Thai and I was scribbling vocab words in my journal.
When I forgot a word I would laugh a little, because of course I was going to forget some vocabulary here and there. But he was stern when it came to language learning, and for him forgetting words was no joke. Once you had learned something, it was your responsibility to carry it on, remember it, treat it with care. He lived out of a belief that life only happens once and if you don’t take it seriously it can slip through your fingers. So he was stern, and I loved him for that.
Jon Gorter (‘17) graduated from Calvin with degrees in English and environmental studies and holds an MS in natural resources from the University of Michigan. He enjoys fly fishing, mushroom foraging, and waterfall scrambling near his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.