Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Leaving

When I was 21 I’d lived my entire life essentially in one house. I’d never crossed a national border, said good-bye to more than one friend at a time, or packed for more than a month away. If you’d told me then that within 6 years I’d be in the middle of my 5th inter-continental move (with two more bearing down on me), I might not have laughed, but I’m sure I would have smiled, taking it, strangely, as rather blatant flattery. I remember my first real departure, the intensity of it, the thrill and pain and the tears through laughter. I remember how alive I felt. In the years since, filled with heart-wrenching goodbyes under the security cameras and joyful meetings at baggage claim, the airports and faces and tears have slowly bled into one anonymous past, as if I were acting in a film based on a true story, trying to touch a flame that can’t touch me. The strongest ache now comes not from the bracing punch of reality, but from the inability to feel anything that could do justice to the moment, to what those around me are feeling. But like fear, most passion - perhaps even most emotion - is rooted in the unknown, and it is inevitable that those who leave expose the truth that can’t be learned by staying: mere moments after saying goodbye to everything we’ve ever known, life goes on. That is, at least, what we tell ourselves, as we step through another metal detector and wave that final wave again. It is clear to me that experience grants a certain familiarity with what I will feel, what will be said to me, and what I must do. But familiarity can only take me so far. The one certainty about every departure is uncertainty; we never step out of the same river twice. Departures are like a treadmill that’s just a bit too fast for me - no matter how hard I run it will throw me off. Even though repetition may take away the initial shock of being thrown, even if I learn to approximate when the fall will come, the fact remains that the ground on which I stand is about to make a dramatic change of speed. The only thing that really changes is how quickly I can get up, dust myself off, and step back on. “Certainly it hurts,” says H.W. Lawrence. “The trick… is not minding that it hurts.” We are sedentary creatures by nature. The desire to be rooted is in our bones, the act of uprooting ourselves always strikes a nerve. Leaving a group of people sets the clock ticking away against me a little faster than it should, and I rarely get the right words out in time (and when I do there are always more right words that come too late). To whatever lengths I go, the sought for feeling of being “ready” to leave the person is never quite achieved. Of course not, as long as I’m trying to heal all trace of heartache, since the deepest ache demands one and only one remedy: to not leave. Aches will linger, loose-ends will dangle, and regrets are as inevitable as mistakes. The only true completion is the one that starts with birth and ends with death, all other acts leave something incomplete, a farewell to what has become my life and yet I live on. And so departures always catch us off guard, feeling unprepared in some corner of our hearts. I know this all too well, but just as understanding the force of gravity might alleviate some confusion but do nothing to free me from the effects, so it is with the force of leaving. No matter how collected I manage to be, no matter how quickly I can get up off the floor, I will always leave something behind.  

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