"Well, I've been 'fraid of changin' 'cause I built my life around you." --"Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac
|Goodbyes from Namibia (top) and Taiwan (bottom) If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend being group-hugged by a bunch of pre-schoolers.|
Inevitably, I've had to say a lot of goodbyes in my life. As a teacher, each year I say goodbye to a group of students who so tenderly and openly shared their lives with me. Each year of teaching abroad, I've had to say goodbye to friends who I've collectively shared personal and professional lives with. When I was leaving Taiwan, I was so afraid that the goodbye would mark the start of the end of our friendship. What if our friendship was just held together by proximity and a shared experience? I now know that this is not true. I still keep in contact with my friends from Taiwan. When I moved abroad, I still remained friends with people back home. I know now that moving away doesn't mean a goodbye forever. However, it does mean change.
After we had left Taiwan, Tyler texted me asking me who he was going to talk to about certain things now that we were far apart. I told him we could still talk about those things. “BUT IT WON’T BE THE SAME,” he text-shouted back to me. He was right. It wasn’t. Moving away means knowing less of the ins and outs of my friends’ lives. It’s harder to have deeper conversations when conversations are less frequent. I can no longer just take the elevator or take a short walk to their apartment. The hardest part of saying goodbye for me is not the goodbye itself. It’s knowing that we shared something special together and leaving means our relationship is inevitably going to change. For me, that change is hard to swallow when you have built your life around those people for a year or two.
Washington: One last time/relax, have a drink with me/one last time
--"One Last Time," from Hamilton
In the months leading up to leaving, I listened to the song "One Last Time" from Hamilton on repeat. In the song, George Washington tells Hamilton that he will be stepping down as president after his term. He has Hamilton help him write a letter telling this to the people of the United States and saying goodbye. (I listened to both the original Broadway cast version and the 44 Remix where Barack Obama reads Washington's letter). The song resonated with me at that time for several reasons. For one, I was experiencing a lot of last times of different things in El Salvador. There were experiences that I knew would be my last time. I wanted to remember everything from those last times and make it significant.
There were other experiences that I did without knowing it would be the last time. While I was ready to move on from El Salvador, there were times where I wanted time to stop so I could live in those moments forever. There were late-night conversations that ended with the best hugs where I was always so lovingly encouraged to be unapologetically myself. There was watching sunsets on the beach with a group of people in companionable silence. There were weekend trips with rides in the back of pickup trucks. People asked and answered and questions without being afraid of being vulnerable. There, I was reminded of how complicated it is to be human in this world. In those times, I wanted to put my feet down and drag my heels so I could stay right there and preserve those moments. But that's not how time works.
Hamilton: Why do you have to say goodbye?
Washington: If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on. It outlives me when I'm gone.
--"One Last Time," from Hamilton
When I graduated high school, it was the first time I realized that while the school had an impact on my life, I had very little impact on the school. The school would exist and continue without me. A new class would take our place with nothing more but a "thank you, next." In Namibia, I was heartbroken to leave but knew also that a new group of teachers would come to fill my place. Every year I get new students and my old students get new teachers. There's something both terrifying and comforting that the cycle of change is constant and inevitable. You learn to move on because you have to.
During my first year in El Salvador, a large group of us drove to Copan together. I was in a car with my friends Jared, Elise, and Graham. They had all been in El Salvador for at least a year. They talked about some of the teachers who had moved onto other places and had not returned for this school year. I hadn’t met any of these people, so all I could do was listen to the stories they shared about these people. Jared said I would do the same thing to the new people who came the following year. When I returned to El Salvador for my second year, there were people who left whose absences were felt. I did the same thing to the new people that Jared said I would. We told them stories of the people who had come before them. We told them that they would do the same thing to the new people the next year when some of us were gone. When you are used to someone being around, you feel their absence. While the missing seems like a constant acute pang at first, it settles into being more bearable with more time. You learn to move on and the absence of those people become the new normal. Eventually, it just turns into occasional happy reminders of, "aww, this reminds me of _____."
As much as I'd like to think I'm irreplaceable, I know that someone will fill my job and the house where I lived. They won't fill the exact roles in my friends' lives, just as new people in my life won’t replace my old ones. However, they will fill a role that my friends didn't know they needed in their lives until that person came along. It seems to always work out that way.
Washington: We have to teach 'em how to say goodbye.
--"One Last Time," from Hamilton
"I'm not that good at goodbyes/Sometimes it's best to just fly/Ask where we're going, oh, I/Can't talk about it, can't talk about it/'Cause I'm just going to the store to the store/I'm just goin' to the store/You might not see me anymore, anymore/I'm just going to the store"
--"Store," by Carly Rae Jepsen
Even though I have said a lot of goodbyes, like Carly Rae Jepsen, I don't feel like I am good at goodbyes. Can you be? I was curious to see if there were any helpful articles about goodbyes online. I don’t think they are particularly helpful, but I was amused to find that there are several articles on wikiHow. There is a wikiHow on how to say goodbye. They also have specific ones for saying goodbye to coworker and how to say goodbye to your best friend who is moving, which I guess could be reverse-engineered. In the basic how-to-say-goodbye wikiHow it just suggests making goodbyes brief and sincere. How do you impart the weight of what someone meant to you briefly? As one of my friends said to another, "I just don't want to leave anything left unsaid."
My goodbyes in El Salvador varied. There were people I didn't see one last time to say goodbye. There were the honest/realistic goodbyes of "I'll probably never see you again. Have a nice life." There were some "I'll miss yous" and "I love yous" and "I'm glad your forced your friendship on me." I received a lovely letter. There were goodbyes that were a refusal to say goodbye.
My last few hours in El Salvador, I got waffles with a group of friends. We walked back to the complejo together listening to goodbye songs like "Graduation" and "Good Riddance (Time of Our Lives)." People said goodbye and peeled off one-by-one as we got to each house in the complejo. I finished packing. Leah and I sat in our entryway on Jess and Vanessa's furniture, which had been moved into our house. Jared and Elise joined us. Vanessa joined us. The van to the airport came. I said goodbye to everyone, then Jess showed up just in time for a goodbye. When I got into the van, "Stay" by Maurice Williams was playing. It crooned, "Oh won't you stay, just a little bit longer."
So to all my friends still in El Salvador and the ones who have moved on, one last time, goodbye. I'll miss you. I love you. Our time together was important to me. A goodbye for now, doesn't mean goodbye forever. From experience, time apart makes reunions all that much sweeter.