R, my father's namesake, firstborn son, my elder brother, who followed in his father's footsteps in so many ways I can hardly count them, has spent the last two years working in Siberia. Yes, that Siberia. And he went voluntarily in his work as an engineer for an International Paper Company. For those two years, he's managed a climate, a language, a culture very unlike the comfortable life he's been used to. And I would have definitely said, prior to this, that my brother was a man who liked his creature comforts. I suppose I'd still say that. Only he's been willing to sacrifice them as well.. He lives in a townhouse that was shoddily built to his very fastidious engineering eyes. When he couldn't figure out why his normal gait wasn't working on the stairs, he took out his trusty measuring tape and determined that the stair treads were unevenly different in height--10" then 6" then 12" then 8", etc. You can imagine how this could drive even a non-engineer crazy, but my brother, who likes to build, and likes things to be right (he was also trained by the best--his wife, and our dad) had to loosen his shoulders and take a whole lot of deep breathes to handle all the ways things like that affected him, particularly on the job site.
He learned the rhythm of talking through a translator, of looking up words the translator hadn't quite gotten right, of understanding how a different mindset governs different work ethics. And he's done all of this placidly enough. He's survived the excruciatingly long trips across the globe every month or so; he lives in Tacoma (which is south of Seattle) and on a map you'd think flying west from Seattle to Siberia would be the faster trip. But it isn't. He flies across the pole to St. Petersburg, has a layover, then on to Siberia. It takes about 28 hours.
His assignment to Bratsck, Siberia is coming to a close now. And I, for one, had begun to imagine an easier next step. Maybe a US move, where he'd be home every weekend. Could manage the time zones better Skyping with his wife and married sons. But...
He's going to India. Southern India. From a place where winters reach 40 degrees below zero to a place where it's always a sweat-bath. From a place where the landscape was fairly desolate (though he did ski the other day, so there are some hills and trees) to a place verdant with life. Of every kind. (Note: I've been to India, though to say I've been to India so I know what he'll experience is a bit like saying that someone who's been to New York City knows what it's like to live in Bellingham, Washington. Yes, the same country but not really the same. However, I've studied India, like I do all things in which I have an interest) It's a populated country. I remember riding on trains and seeing people--even in the open, more rural spaces outside of the city. It's also a country lush with religion. Fairly swamped with it. So many varieties with so many layers within those varieties that one can be overwhelmed by it all. The United States is growing increasingly religionless, the block of countries once under Soviet rule had religion pushed so far underground that what burns burns brightly but is not widespread yet. But India leans the other way. Think of a major religion in the world, and you'll find a home for it on that subcontinent. Among our own Indian friends, we have Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and Christians.
It's among this rich variety, in landscape, culture, faith and culture that my brother will spend the next three years of his life. This time, however, due to the increased responsibility of his job, he will become an 'ex-pat', meaning his primary address must be in India, and he will only be able visit the US four times a year. This is the difficulty of a promotion that was too much to pass up. There are costs to choices, costs to reaching our dreams (or maybe surpassing them) and this is my brother's. He will go.
And be stretched--again--in ways he cannot not yet imagine. Stretched beyond the responsibilities and privileges of the new position but by simply being in such a place and rubbing shoulders with those around him. He will take off his abominable snowman coat and put on cool cotton (but please, R, not just all those Hawaiian) shirts and pants. He'll continue to talk to his wife (who, because of an elderly mother must remain at home) by Skype, and get to know his grandchildren by face-time. These are the days of technology. If they weren't, it would be a whole different story.
God will meet my brother in southern India. The man who once didn't seem like someone who'd do anything outside his comfort zone has stepped out again in faith, and this is what most pleases God. So I trust that R will be more changed by the next three years than that paper plant that he will build will change the land.