Friday, June 10, 2022

A Reflection on Goodbyes

As a child, your life follows the rhythms of school--a year that runs August to June, and years that run punctuated by milestones every four years, give or take: elementary graduation, middle school graduation, high school graduation, college graduation.
If you attend a single school K-12 as I did, you grow accustomed to staying. Perhaps classmates and teachers leave along the way, and you say hard goodbyes when those occasions arise, but the knowledge that you're staying, yourself, dulls some of the impact. When HS graduation comes along, and it's finally your turn to go, you do so as a group--it's not you leaving while everyone else stays, because all of your classmates are leaving, too.

University, too--you say the goodbyes of graduation as a group, like one of those intricate word problems about the maximum number of handshakes that can be given at a party, with each graduate bidding each other graduate farewell.

Then, if you become a teacher, those familiar school rhythms extend into adulthood. Each Senior class graduates, but you stay. Each of your classes advances to the next grade, but you stay and await a new group. And perhaps more noticeably at an international school, many of your colleagues leave, but you stay. That was my experience, anyway. I went from university straight to CAJ within the span of about three weeks. And for thirteen years, I stayed as others departed, dear friends and mentors whose lives intersected with mine for a short time, some of whom I haven't met in person since.

It occurred to me today that never in my life have I been the one leaving while nearly everyone else stays. Never in my life have I been the one receiving the goodbyes. We pick up on a lot of skills as life happens to us, but this was one skill I never picked up. So today, when classroom clean-up was finished, and I stood face-to-face with a bunch of my Juniors--now officially Seniors--one last time, I had no idea what to do or say. I'd never had to do this before; I have neither script nor screenplay. It was, indeed, one of the hardest moments of my life, and I now have some inkling of what to expect after the final staff meeting finishes next week, and I exchange goodbyes with friends and colleagues who are staying.

To say "a piece of my heart will always remain with CAJ" may sound trite, but I now have a fuller appreciation of what, exactly, that expression means. For, to leave part of your heart behind means that your heart needs to break first. Putting down roots and forming attachments to people and places is part of what it means to be human and those bonds are not easily broken. In fact, I don't think they can be broken, at least not completely. Still, the separation hurts on a heart level. This, I think, is the reality of a life lived internationally--a life in which the sun sets on one of the places you call 'home' as it rises on another, and in which weeks of your life will be spent over the ocean between in a never-ending cycle of transit: reunions and partings.

Perhaps I should count myself lucky that I didn't discover all of this until I was 36, but I think I'm the richer for the knowing.

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