Saturday, May 14, 2011

Time Passages

The loss of a friend or family member is always a time for reflection and memories, sadness and anger, gratitude for the time we had, and, at my age, thoughts about the purpose and direction of life, and what the remaining years will bring. 

Jane and Kim Sutton
Hiking Mt. Healy in Denali NP

Over 30 years ago, my husband, son and I began an adventure of a lifetime - going overseas to live while my husband worked for an international corporation.  Taipei, Taiwan was our first destination, where AT&T International had a contract to install large switching systems to upgrade the island's communications.  One of the other families on the project was a young couple and their daughter, Kim, Jane and Heather Sutton.  Several of the AT&T families and other expatriates lived in two adjoining buildings owned by the Lin Brothers, on the northern edge of Taipei in the Tien Mou section.  The Suttons lived across the hall and up one floor of the 5-story walkup.  Our windows looked out on the former US military base, which had recently been abandoned when diplomatic relations with Taiwan were severed. 

If you've ever lived overseas, you know the close bonds that are formed with your fellow expats.  Besides the AT&T folks, we had several GE nuclear engineers and a Saudi diplomat in our buildings.  We became lifelong friends with all of the Americans.  Unlike many Americans in this situation, the Suttons were adventuresome and thrilled to be exploring and experiencing this crazy new world.  And that endeared them to us. They didn't know the meaning of the word 'hardship' and never complained about their quarters or the living conditions.   Jane had a great sense of humor and could see the hilarity in the adventures of just living every day in such a foreign environment, the strange food, the interesting customs, the unreadable language, the insane traffic.  We shared many dinners, bottles of awful wine, parties, celebrations, a Christmas in Hong Kong, trips to the market, long walks and so many stories and laughs. 

Dancing the Night Away
New Years Eve 1981
Taipei, Taiwan

After Taiwan we both went to Korea, but we seldom saw the Suttons as we were in Seoul, while they were in Puson and Inchon.  And then our ways really separated as we went to assignments in Egypt and New Jersey, retirement to Nevada, and finally to Arizona.  The Suttons did time in Saudi Arabia and then went on to what I called "the good assignments" - England, the Netherlands and Rome.  On one of our trips to Italy, we spent several days with Kim and Jane in Rome and they took us to places the casual tourist never sees.  All along the way, Jane wrote us of their new adventures and experiences, sights and sounds.  Her writing brought each place to life for us.  There was no doubt she had a gift for it. 

After retirement, the Suttons settled in Florida and after years of writing for correspondence and her friends' pleasure, Jane took the plunge into professional writing.   Her first novel, The Ride, was published just a few years ago.  She became an active blogger and very involved in the Florida writing community.  Her daughter and family lived nearby, giving Jane the joy of spending time with her adorable grandson.  Kim and Jane together spent many happy hours in the beautiful nature park near their home.  It was a wonderful time for them.

We were thrilled that they agreed to join us and another couple for a driving trip to Alaska in 2005.  Jay advised them on the purchase of a truck and trailer and they made the long trek to meet us in Dawson Creek, B.C.  After caravanning for a while up the Alaska Highway, the Suttons went off on their own to meet us later at Denali National Park.  There we hiked and watched wildlife, enjoyed dinners and cocktails around the campfires before they had to leave us too soon to start back to Florida.  It was the last time we would see Jane.

In a cruel twist of fate, Jane, who had never smoked, was diagnosed with lung cancer and had one lung removed.  She seemed, to us so far away, to be doing alright for several months.  Suddenly her condition worsened and within a week she was gone.  There is no "fair" in life.  And no answers either.  Why do the evil bastards live on and on, while a gentle, kind, good and decent lady dies far too young of a disease she didn't deserve. 

Jane has moved on to her next great adventure and, if I'm lucky, she'll write to me about it.