It always amazes me how quickly you can make a connection with someone who seems totally different from you. “Kindred spirits”, as Anne of Green Gables put it, can find and keep each other across language, culture, distance, and time.
In 2004, I made a trip to Japan. It was a Sister City Exchange between the City of Whitehorse and the City of Ushiku. I was there for less than two weeks, and I was placed with a host family. Weekdays were spent with our student group, which had coordinated activities each day. We had the chance to do a lot of really amazing things during these excursions – from visiting Disneyland, to calligraphy sessions, to walking the streets of Tokyo and everything in between. Evenings were spent with our host families, and boy was I lucky with mine.
My host sister Lena was my age, and spoke English very well. I still remember meeting Lena and her mother, Kae, and going home with them that first evening. I had never been somewhere as foreign as Japan before, and I haven’t been anywhere like that since. I was terrified, but Lena’s family was nothing but open and welcoming.
I met Lena’s older sister, Yuka, that evening. Yuka was not as good as Lena at speaking English, but was bold and unafraid of making mistakes. Because she was willing to be a total goofball by acting things out, or going with the most roundabout explanation for something, it wasn’t long before I started to feel right at home and open up. Somehow, from that very first day, the three of us never ran out of things to talk about.
I grew so close with Lena and Yuka over the course of my time there that I was devastated when it was time to leave. When I was getting on the bus to the airport, all three of us were in tears. I left with promises that we would see each other again.
Fast forward several months, and I got an email from Lena saying that she had been selected for the reciprocal exchange and that she would be visiting Whitehorse with their group that summer. I ran to my mom and asked her if we could host Lena, and I think it was only a matter of days before it was confirmed. I was beyond excited.
Lena came to stay with me for less than two weeks that summer, and we picked up right where we left off. I was able to show her much of the beautiful Yukon. Because they were visiting while school was out, the host families were invited to join on any of the day trips, so we spent even more time together.
At the end of Lena’s visit, both of our hearts broke saying goodbye, but once more we walked away with promises that our paths would cross again one day.
In around April 2014, ten years after our first meeting, and nine years after the last time we had seen each other, I got a Facebook message from Lena saying that she wanted to come for a visit to Canada in October. We hadn’t spoken in ages, but I was overjoyed to hear from her. She told me that Yuka and her new husband Ryosuke would be joining her on the visit as well, and that she could come anywhere she wanted to she was going to come see me in Edmonton.
I went to the airport on the day of their arrival and saw them across the crowd. I had been worried I wouldn’t recognize them, or that they might not recognize me, but it turns out I had nothing to fear. Of course I knew who they were. We’re kindred spirits.
We spent a beautiful autumn weekend together in Edmonton. I was surprised to realize that they had come all the way over from Tokyo just for the weekend, but they didn’t feel it was far at all. The weekend was busy – from Whyte Ave walks to exploring West Edmonton Mall, to their first tastes of Alberta Beef, and experiencing a Japanese meal in Canada, they packed their weekend full.
But what amazed me most of all was how quickly we fell back into really knowing one another, and really liking one another. It didn’t matter that Lena hadn’t practiced her English much lately, or that Ryosuke had never really used his English much at all. It didn’t matter that the few Japanese phrases I knew were rusty, or that Lena and I hadn’t seen each other in nine years. We still understood each other, and we still loved each other. Despite having spent a grand total of around 3 weeks together in our lifetimes, Lena and I are bonded forever.
It might be 5 years or 10 years or 20 years down the road, but I know that we will find each other again. It will never be for long, but I know it will always happen. After all, we’re kindred spirits.