I hand over my gift and fumble at the words. And my friend looks at me, her face stoic, almost nonchalant and it’s hard to know if I’m even doing this right.
I should be better at this. How many times have I said “good-bye” over the years? There were the zillions of moves I made as both a kid and an adult. And overseas, people come and go and good-byes are anticipated or very sudden. But they happen all the time.
I’m moving to another part of Borneo in a few weeks. And I’m saying goodbye a lot like I’ve lived life here over the years…sitting on the floor of a friend’s house, bouncing back and forth between awkward small talk and serious heart stuff, my kids fighting for a space on my lap, knocking over drinks of glasses of hot tea onto the splintered wooden planked floor, a light morning rain tapping on the metal roof.
Throughout ten years of these types of visits with friends, I always feel both way out of my comfort zone and totally in my element.
I guess you could say the same thing about my relationship with moving. Somehow I feel very at home with packing up and starting over. And somehow it still makes me feel very lost every time I do it.
I wish I could say there is more “good” in all my “good-byes” so far here. But just like daily life here, they’re a bit messy, confusing and almost always sweaty. I go, intending to say the right words of thanks, and hope for some kind of satisfying closure, but usually it all still feels like we’re in the middle of something. Maybe the friend is still in a crisis and I’m not really sure if it’ll all end up OK. Or I’m still learning how to love in this culture, this foreign language, but I’m pretty sure I’ve just left a long list of misunderstandings and offenses. Then there’s the lack of emotion shown to me, the stoicism that makes me wonder if any of this even matters. If I matter to them.
I bet I look stoic sometimes, too. But really, I’m just distracted…by my kids hiding in my shoulder so they don’t have to have their picture taken again, or the mosque’s call to prayer, or my own desire to just have the good-bye over with so I can go home and hide, too.
Sometimes I get a text later with more honest feelings, and that should feel better. But that just makes me sad, too.
I know it’s going to be OK. The next place is really exciting and the people are great and the work there is amazing and I need to just get there and move forward and plant roots and a bunch of other clichés that do actually work.
But still… right now, I’m in that “lost” period. And I’m just wondering if anyone else out there is here with me?
One small decision helped me this week. I plan to take a branch off my plumeria tree—the one Brad gave me for a birthday a few years ago—take it on the MAF plane ride and then plant it in my next home. I thought it would be silly and a bit indulgent especially when there are plumeria trees there, too. But then I remembered how my mom would pack up all her plants and stick them in the back of our station wagon to head to the next Army post. Like she knew, too, that taking some living things from her last home would help her figure out life in the next one.
Sometimes I just need a reminder that life doesn’t end just because your time in that last place does.
And then there are the needs. I set a date for myself when I’d force myself to pull out of everything. The orphanage. The hospital visits for the patients Brad brings in. The visit to a neighbor in need. And then I keep extending it. And then moving it up. Can’t decide if it’s better to put it off until I’m neck-deep in boxes and still dashing off for one more visit, or better just ripping off the bandaid. Both sound bad.
And then there are my fears. There are people coming after us who will never know me here in this place, on this team, a family member here. And what happens to this place I had here in this place? It’s small, I know. I’m small. The island is small, too. But me here in this place for this time mattered to me. All the hurts and fears and adventure and growth and friendships and faith and pregnancies and flights and prayers and disappointments and doubts and grace—they all happened to me here. What happens to all that?
I know. Some of it will go with me. It changed me, after all, broke me to pieces, then healed into something new.
And some of the stuff will stay. This part is the hardest to believe, but in the off-chance that you’re going through a good-bye or a bad-bye, too, I’ll say it anyway so that maybe we can help each other believe true, good things. This is what I am trying to believe: I, here at this time, changed something here, maybe even someone. And hopefully, in some good ways.
One of my childhood tricks for coping with moves was to sagely remind myself that every tear-filled good-bye started with a scared, but hope-filled hello and many hellos end up in teary good-byes. That sounds like a lot of tears. But the point was, those good-byes have to happen so the next hellos can happen so the next goodbyes happen and I’m starting to wonder how I ever found this fact comforting.
It seems I’m not in the mood tonight for my own pep talks. So, I’ll just finish by saying this, is there anyone else out there saying goodbye, too? OK. I thought so. Then, let’s be a little bit lost in all the good-byes and hellos together.
photo credit: first and third photos, Kelly Hewes