“They would continue to breathe and move and laugh and talk and think and create–just on a different spot on the planet; and not even on so very remote a spot. But it was a spot remote to me, and because I knew that the three of them would continue to be together…in that way, it was as if I were dying, rather than they.”
-Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
It is appropriate, I think, to share this quote with you all today. Today I say goodbye to my own second family, and tomorrow I return to the United States with my biological family.
My own situation is almost exactly the opposite of Nora Eldridge’s, of course. That experienced teacher (and the novel’s narrator) is staying right where she always has, while her favored student and his parents are being whisked away. I, on the other hand, am letting myself be whisked away. The effect, however, is the same. Nora and I are being ripped apart from people we love. There is a death of sorts in the process.
Goodbyes have always been hard on me. How do you explain the tragedy of leaving a person behind, even if you’re planning to see them again at Christmas or in a few months or next year? And how much worse when you don’t know if or when you’ll ever see them again!
The world doesn’t stop for our friends just because we–or they–move away. Instead, in “a spot remote to me,” my family, friends, and boyfriend have been growing and changing and experiencing their own worlds. I have been connected, thanks to the great variety of technology available to me. But I have also been separated. They will have changed in ways that I can’t discern over Skype or in text. And I will have changed in ways they aren’t expecting either. And this new family that I leave behind–they too will change before I see them again.
And perhaps some of those friends that we say goodbye to–perhaps we’ll never see them again. Life is strange and takes us places we never anticipated. Sometimes, we will realize too late that we didn’t give enough time for our final goodbye, simply because we didn’t know at the time that it would be our last.
So, there is a matter of dying that comes with a goodbye. The person I am will have died before I see my Mexican family again. And the person I will be will stand in the old me’s place. And the same goes for my friends. There are no true “see you later’s.” Goodbye is goodbye. It comes with pain, certainly. But perhaps that pain is what grows us from who we’ve been into who we are–and into who we will be.