Monday, April 17, 2023

Reuniting With a Stranger from Across the World

 I waited with Indy in Naples, Italy—and I’d just asked a stranger to play music with me. (If you’d like to read the beginning of this story, here are those links.

Part 1: The Protagonist in Our Own Stories

Part 2: When We Met Jin

Months after our jam session in Europe, Jin surprised us by explaining that he’d made a trip to America! “I’m in Nashville right now,” he wrote. “I hope I can make it and see you and your family in March to get a tattoo from Ruby. I’ll try. In any case, thank you—and God—that we were gifted such a moment in Italy. That moment still pushes me forward to this day.”

Surprisingly, I didn’t doubt his words for a second, and less than a month later, several members of our family waited to pick Jin up near a bus stop. “I see him!” Indy squealed, and then we all spotted Jin.

We talked so fast, excited to see him. And when we brought him to soak in some hot pots, he peered around thoughtfully. “It’s surreal to think just a few months ago, we all met on the other side of the world.”

“This journey with cancer has been hard on all of us,” I whispered, pointing to the kids. “You gave us something so wonderful to look forward to. Thank you for coming to see us.”

I honestly believe each member of our family needed to meet Jin for a reason. He may be young, but he’s wise beyond his years and shows such generosity of spirit. During his visit, we all made memories that we’d never forget. He helped Trey with his guitar, got a tattoo from Ruby, played card games with Indy, hiked with Sky, and went out to some bars with Mike.

What I loved the most, though, was hearing his stories. Jin has traveled around the world going anywhere from Greece to Iceland to Idaho to Japan. Honestly, I’ll never know what inspired him to go so far out of his way, just to see us, but I think it might’ve been providence.

Many of you know I’ve been studying the etymology of different words. That being said, I’m very intentional about what I write in cards, and I felt almost compelled to say in our family card to Jin, “You are unforgettable.”

Jin looked up at me after reading the words and appeared quite overcome with emotion. I’m sure part of this is because I’m so sick, and he knows how hard cancer has been on our family, but I also knew he’d become such a dear friend to all of us.

“It’s interesting you would write the word ‘unforgettable,” he said. “The root of that word means ‘truth.’ And as I’ve traveled across the world, that’s what I’ve been looking for—and finding: my own truth.”

This resonated with me even more than any of the music we’d played while he stayed with us in Idaho. I thought then about my journey with cancer and how hard I’ve tried to persevere and remain positive despite each setback. Over a year ago, I pulled out my old bucket list and decided to remember things I’d checked off and then cross off whatever I hadn’t done: one of those things had been to visit Italy.

At the end of it all, after I’d checked off so many crazy things like going skydiving with the family, getting Aunt Jackie’s recipe for spaghetti, jamming in a New York Subway, or even visiting Pompeii, I realized what really makes life matter isn’t life experiences. It’s experiencing life with the people we love.

We each gave Jin a hug and stated the very best of wishes. And when he walked out our door, I felt like we’d met someone who had somehow changed our lives forever. It’s true that life can sometimes feel unbearably hard, but it’s also beautiful and miraculous. Who knew that a stranger we met at a train station in Italy would become such a dear family friend.


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