Tuesday, March 20, 2012

TRAVEL : Adieu, Adieu, Adieu!


“It’s well known that he who returns never left,
So I traced and retraced my life,
Changing clothes and planets,
Growing used to the company,
To the great whirl of exile,
To the great solitude of bells tolling.”
-Pablo Neruda, “Adioses”

Like so many others, I hate goodbyes. 
Greetings are what I am most comfortable with -–the hellos, the warm smiles, the meeting of new people, the embraces of reunion. I love the excitement of seeing a friend or a family member after days, months or years of being apart. I relish in the palpable anticipation before landing in a foreign city, anxious to explore the unknown. 

But goodbyes? Feelings of anxiety and longing always flood over me as if every cell in my body is crying out in discomfort: “don’t go!” Whether it’s leaving home for a new place or leaving that formerly new place to return home, saying goodbye is one of the most tangible forms of learning to let go and accept change.  It is always tough.

I still remember the most difficult goodbye of my life. It was after a three-month-long study abroad program with a group of fourteen people that I had not met previously, nor knew much about before taking the trip. But, during those three months we formed a bond unlike anything I had ever experienced; the level of trust we instilled in one another, generated by the embarking of a journey to a completely unfamiliar place and having only each other to rely on, taught me the power of travel in forging human connection. When I think about the days before we returned to our respective homes across the country, I can still recall those feelings: the emptiness that ate through the façade of calm I tried to use to shield my sadness, the lump welling up inside my aching throat, and finally, the tears that I could no longer hold back. I’ve never cried so much within a twenty-four hour period. I’ll never forget it, how I felt, the looks on my friends’ faces –- how heart wrenching it all was. 

Yet when I look back on that experience, that goodbye, however painful, it taught me almost as much as the trip itself. I had not anticipated my breaking down. After all, I had gone through three months of oftentimes-frustrating attempts to communicate in an unfamiliar language, strenuous backpacking, extreme dehydration and even contracting a very unpleasant parasite... all this without shedding a tear. The very fact that I was unable to control such profound sadness was a sign as to how much the experience and those people meant to me. I could do nothing but let the waves of emotion wash over me, and that was a good thing.

That goodbye was an integral part of my travels. It taught me to appreciate every aspect of such a life-altering experience. While it might be difficult to deal with in the moment, learning to appreciate a goodbye’s place in the greater context of a trip helps not only to cope with grief, but perhaps also see goodbyes as strangely beautiful. They lead to reflection and even revelation, giving life to the phrase, “with every ending comes a new beginning.” 

Do I still miss the friends I made on that trip? Everyday. Do I still feel sadness when I think about saying goodbye? Absolutely. But I appreciate that trip as it was, ending and all. The experience as a whole shaped me, even though it was difficult to let go of. But let’s be clear –- letting go does not mean forgetting. It means a new beginning.

So when you say your next goodbye –- whether to a friend leaving for the summer or your host family while studying abroad –- try to keep in mind that a goodbye is not something to dread. It is an important piece of a greater puzzle, and your traveling will be better for it.

The Woman Behind the Travel Section:

Katie Helete is a cultured old soul with a kind of energy that would entice you to travel with her anywhere. Attending UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, she is majoring in Political Economy. Explore the world, bucket list by bucket list with the brilliant and bold Katie.

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