This morning, I waltzed into the restaurant where I worked in 2011. I sat in one of the swivel bar chairs and ordered my regular breakfast. I tried the new dark roast coffee and chatted with my old coworkers and former customers. It was wonderful to see their faces again and to catch up on the high and lows of the last year. Of course, the food tasted really good too! 🙂
For several hours, I talked and listened, hopping back and forth to visit different regular customers at their tables and grabbing a few minutes here and there with the waitresses when things slowed down. Not much has changed in 2012, they told me. “Well, I ended my relationship with so-and-so, but we got back together again. Oh, and so-and-so went missing last week.” (They suspect she’s relapsed into her heroin addiction.) “And, so-and-so was thrown in jail again.” “I dropped out of school. So-and-so is unemployed, but he’s living with me now. My mom and I still don’t talk.” “So-and-so’s relative died, and so-and-so was fired.” “My son doesn’t want anything to do with me; he didn’t even call when he was in town.” “Yeah, and so-and-so is selling sex again, but not to get by anymore; she’s just doing it to buy Gucci purses and fancy clothes.” Anyway, nothing exceptional last year. Nothing really worth remembering. “A year to forget,” one customer told me.
In Thailand, there’s a commonly heard phrase. “Same same, but different.” And, wow, it is so true.
In Bangkok, I relate to people in those same situations. None of these stories are new. Addiction. Co-dependency. Jail time. Unemployment. Poverty. Grief. Commercial sex. Broken relationships. The mangled mess of sin. The human condition.
Honestly, hearing them share with me today broke my heart. I know I’m not the answer to their circumstances, but I care about them, and I want to be there for them. I want to offer wisdom. I want to be a stable, loving friend. I don’t want to be in and out of their situations – I want to be with them through it. But, I’m returning to Thailand soon. Similar situations and similar brokenness, only in Bangkok, I’ll have to navigate those relationships in a different language and cultural context.
I’m grieved that the broken cycles they’re caught up in seem so normal to them, and I’m aware that I don’t have quick or easy answers. I believe God has answers for them, but I’m so often at a loss as to what those solutions are – or how and when they will come – or what my role is in that process. This is not a new realization, just a reality that eats away at me, whether in small town Missouri or big city Bangkok. Maybe I’m homesick for heaven. Maybe I’m tired of the dysfunction. Maybe I’m just thinking too much. “Same same, but different.”