Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Traveler's Goodbye.

Goodbyes always seem so dramatic in the movies. Eyes are filled with tears, men tend to run along the side of trains and the weather just happens to be dreary just like that foggy night in Casablanca with trench coats and the ever famous farewell line: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

These scenes are never tearjerkers for me. I wouldn’t necessarily classify myself as “movie crier” at all, but the whole concept of saying goodbye is often overly portrayed as melodramatic.

I’ve been confident about my opinion on this sappy subject for years until, unfortunately, a few weeks ago.

I wiped away tears while taking the elevator down to the lobby of my apartment building. I needed to throw bags of trash into the dumpster, bags filled with a pair of my worn converse, disregarded scribbles of class notes and maps that had been pinned to my walls for months – basically anything I could trash in order to lighten my luggage.

I was focused on moving out of my flat in time to catch a flight to the South Island of New Zealand where I would be traveling for the following weeks.

As I walked into the lobby, I saw the tear-stained faces of the people I spent the last five months getting to know. The people from countries scattered around the world and all across America that were so different from me, but quickly became my best friends.

I didn’t decide to study abroad to make new friends or meet people, I wanted to see the world and become familiar with the country.

I am satisfied with my relationship with New Zealand, I immersed myself into the culture and traveled more within the country in five months than I have around the U.S. my entire life, but during the last days, it wasn’t the relationship with the country that concerned me, it was ending the relationships with the people I shared the time.

So I walked to and from the dumpster without acknowledging my emotional friends and headed back up to my flat to grab my bags, along with my composure.

It’s not easy accepting the fact that the world is a large place and you may never see these people ever again.

Yes, the Internet allows us to Skype, email and easily keep in touch, but the understanding sits in the back of our minds that the bond will never be same.

Once I was able to get my emotions under control, I joined my group of friends in the lobby for the final farewells.

Most goodbyes are awkward. No one ever knows the right words to say, but I’ve realized now that most things are better left unsaid.

That unsatisfied, incomplete feeling will always exist after a sincere goodbye and I recognize that there is nothing one can say or do to fulfill it.

So we all cried and hugged and sometimes didn’t say a word while onlookers stared at us, most not able to comprehend the situation as it is something that the majority of people have never experienced and may never will.

Leaving and losing such valuable relationships is not an experience I would recommend to others, but it is a part of traveling that one cannot avoid.

After returning home to my family and friends, I still feel a bit of emptiness and I’m only now realizing that it will never go away, but only be ignored, as the memories are more important. So far it seems easier to remember than to miss.

I was reading a book during the end of my time abroad and posted a quote from it on my wall for inspiration and would now recommend it to any other traveler who inevitably faces the final goodbye.

“So many people enter and leave your life. Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to keep the door open so they can come in, but it also means you have to let them go.”

-Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

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