Dear Sophie and Wouter,
Happy Qixi! You won’t believe this, but guess what?! We got engaged!! I wanted so much to share this news with you the moment it happened. But we’ve been busy with traveling and work, and it’s been hard to find time. Now I can finally sit down with a cup of latte and tell you the tale 🙂
Now… Where to start? I can’t begin to describe how thrilled I am. But I bet you aren’t surprised at all! In fact, clever as you both are, you probably were expecting something like this to happen, right? After all, you were the ones that encouraged us to stay together and to push onwards when circumstances had been very unfavorable indeed. Now that I think about it, I am amazed by how daring you are. I’m ashamed to admit that even though I’m 3 years older, I am much more materialistic, much more cautious, and much more skilled at calculating risks and benefits, and would therefore have retreated where you’d have charged.
Well, enough reminiscing! Now let me tell you more about the engagement! Sophie, I know you’ll love this, the proposal happened in Kaifeng on the bridge to the back entrance of Long Ting! I know how you loved standing on the balcony of your favorite restaurant when you were younger, a teenager, looking over the night scenes of Kaifeng and the lake of Long Ting. You said the willows waving in the wind, moonlight rippling on water, and the palace solemn and grand in the background all whispered things to you. They suggested the age and depth of the city, and stirred in you achings and longings. Did you ever imagine that this romantic spot would become even more romantic still? Well it did! Wouter, you must congratulate yourself on the excellent choice of location! The proposal itself probably wasn’t as dramatic as you’d dreamed. Wouter was on his knees for about 5 seconds. I was so excited I’m not even sure I heard his question properly, and then I said YES! If you’re wondering whether I cried, the answer is no 😛 But you’d always known I wouldn’t cry yeah? I remember you saying a smart girl would be very conscious of what stage her relationship is in, and would therefore be quite mentally aware of when it is “time”. You for one would be very ashamed to be caught off-guards. Well I hope I lived up to your expectations! It was a quick “yes”, but definitely one I relished.
The engagement party was also grand. I got 99 roses! Oh they were lovely! There were definitely tears threatening to spill when I saw Wouter coming into the room with a gigantic bouquet. Hey do you remember the first rose that was exchanged between the two of you? It was at the Indy Airport wasn’t it? Right before Wouter left for Australia… I remember you shared a cup of coffee, two chocolate chip cookies (those were meant to be eaten 12 hours later), the first kiss, and a rose. It was a bittersweet goodbye. The very first. I wonder if you’d smiled like you did if you knew how many more of those goodbyes were to come… I hope this doesn’t terrify you, but saying goodbye doesn’t get any easier over time. In fact, as we grow closer and closer to each other, they get harder and harder. This year we parted ways at the Zhengzhou Railway Station. I was again very weepy, and even now, two weeks afterwards, I’m not sure I’m completely recovered from that goodbye. But you’ll be glad to hear that things are definitely looking up for us. Wouter plans to be in California for six weeks starting mid-August, then maybe again in late November, and his graduation will be in sight in 2015. The end is finally here! Or should I say, another beginning is about to dawn? I know from where you are, it’s difficult to see all of this. But I just wanted to say thank you, thank you so much my dears, thank you for believing in love, for having faith, for persevering. The fruits of your perseverance are sweet indeed.
Sophie and Wouter, as someone who has been through 3.5 years of long distance (perhaps the longest distance on this planet!), I want to share some of my experiences with you, and I hope this will make your ordeal easier, if you know the results you can achieve. Long distance is as hard and bitter as people have said it is, maybe even more. There’s a sort of sadness and endlessness embedded into it, that sometimes, when one is weak, can weave a net of darkness and insecurity that drags and engulfs. Cultural barriers are not imaginative, they are real, and sometimes painful. Even the most open minds and understanding hearts encounter things that are difficult to grapple with. There are times of extreme loneliness, and also misunderstandings that screw things up. But despite it all, there’s love, and there’s hope.
I think one of the golden things about a long-distance relationship is that it teaches us to live by hope. Goodbyes can be painful, and in the weeks immediately following a painful goodbye (like right now) the next reunion can seem very very far away. Six months comprises of an astronomical number of hours and seconds, and each one of them dark and unfriendly. The mundane and insignificant daily labors seem not only uninviting, but practically torturing, after glorious weeks spent in each other’s presence. And yet, time after time, improbable figures like “4 months” became next month, next week, in 2 days… Such a delight, as CS Lewis puts it, “that tingled down the spine and troubled the belly and at moments went near to stopping the breath.” And finally, oh finally, the tight embrace, the warmth and closeness! I think the sudden joy of that moment is on a similar scale of entering Paradise. At least that is what it appears to be now to an imagination limited by the flesh. Such a life is lived off faith, a trust that we will stay true to each other until next time, an unshaking belief that there is a next time, because we will work for it, and wait for it, and rejoice in it. And because such a relationship feeds so much off hope and faith, in bringing us closer to each other it also brings us closer to God, who has, again and again, stressed the importance of these virtues. And it is this, being cuddled together in the palm of God, more than anything else, that has kept us strong and courageous. A different kind of courage than the one you started with, the kind driven by passionate love, but a clearer, better, longer-lasting one.
There’s still quite a way to go before this long-distance ends and life together starts. And, I know you know this, togetherness will offer challenges and problems of its own. But I think these valuable lessons learned in times apart will help. Be patient, be loving, have hope 🙂
My best wishes for your life together.
With lots and lots of love,
P.S. Purdue is a beautiful place, please enjoy it as much as you can. Trust me, you’ll miss it.