A Death in the Family

“Ask not for whom the bell tolls.  It tolls for thee.”

Today, Sharon and I attended the funeral service for a friend living in Washington, D.C. who died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 45.  It was a beautiful service with hundreds of friends and family attending from around the U.S.

Funerals are always tough, and even more so when the deceased is your age and has young children like you.  This was an uplifting service, however, as I saw a lot of old friends and shared common experiences from our time in Japan years ago.

Take me back to 1990.  It’s the end of the Cold War.  The world is opening up, even as the American economy is tanking.  Young people coming out of college are looking for jobs and adventure overseas.

I graduated from college in June 1990 and was in Osaka, Japan the next month.   I had a job teaching English  to elementary school kids in a suburban school.  On weekends, I took the train into the City to play rugby for a Japanese club. 

My circle of friends included a motley collection of expats:  American, British, Canadian and Irish.   Good people.  To the Japanese, we were “gaijin” or foreigners, strangers in a strange land.  But we loved it. 

We met at the local pubs after work and on weekends to drink beer, throw darts, meet girls, tell tall tales, and drink beer.  When we had free time, we  hit the road, traveling Japan or flying to Thailand and Bali.  Every day was a new adventure. 

There was no Internet.  No cell phones.  No cable TV.  Our entertainment consisted to talking to our friends or strangers.  We used English, Japanese or  a combination of both.  Communication was face-to-face. 

From those low-tech experiences, we created lifelong friends.  Our “gaijin” group in Osaka stayed in touch and kept having adventures years after we left “the Big J.”  In fact, we expanded our international experiences, traveling to Ireland, Japan (again), Vietnam, Turkey and Canada.  We even met for a weekend in Maine.

Along the way, we had kids and became  lawyers, teachers, nonprofit organizers, and even a Catholic priest.  Today, a dozen of us gathered to say goodbye to a friend who embodied the best of our generation.

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