Life changes. A guaranteed constant. Everyone always tells you that it’s good. That, while it’s sad to leave some places and people behind, whatever comes will be just as good, maybe better. More of life to experience and enjoy.
Often times this is subsequently accompanied by an earnest afterthought of cherish the present moments too, you won’t get those back. Well, of course not. But, how am I supposed to cherish these moments when I can barely comprehend the speed of time as it is?
What if I don’t want more of life to experience? Don’t get me wrong, I do. Honestly, new relationships and new places, it’s exciting. And new knowledge to learn, my goodness, for that I can’t wait.
But I don’t want to leave. I want all of the new, without losing any (well, almost any) of the old. And I suppose this is a childish way of thinking, but it’s real. I’m sure it sounds so naïve. I ought to just get over it, knowing life changes, and simply adapt to new without the weight of nostalgia. But I can’t. It’s just not how I’m built. I am an old soul, and a terribly wistful one at that. I don’t want to leave. I’m very ready to start over; but I don’t want to leave.
I don’t know how. How do you say goodbye to a place that has been your home, your whole world, for eighteen years? It’s not that I don’t want to fall in love with new places; it’s that I don’t ever want to lose this one, the one that built me. How do you say goodbye to the people that have become your home, when you didn’t even know a house wasn’t just four walls? It’s not that I don’t want to fall in love with new humans; it’s that I don’t want to lose the ones I have, the ones that shaped me. I don’t know how to let all of this go. Who I am right now, in this moment, is the product of this place, these people. My identity is God’s. But, nonetheless, these factors brought me to that point. I never understood what it was to be wholly connected to another human being until I connected to these ones. I didn’t know what true trust was like, what vulnerability, intertwined strength, and home was like, until these human beings. How do I leave them? I don’t know how to let all of this go. I suppose no one really does.
You can always come back and visit of course, they say. But it isn’t the same. It never will be. Considering how much place and time and people have already changed me, I will be a different person. And no matter how good that fact is, it won’t be the same. It can’t be. As a close friend once beautifully articulated, in words I never would’ve found, I hate returning to a place that was once your home, and finding that it isn’t yours anymore. I can visit, of course, but it wouldn’t be mine. This place, these walls, these streets, these souls. No matter how many times I come back, I can never make them mine again, not like they were before. Partly because I will have a new place, new walls, new streets, new souls, that I am truly desperately excited to get to know. But mostly because this place, the old, will have gone on without me, and it will have changed in its own ways. And whatever impact I had, whatever space I occupied, will dissipate. And sure, temporary space can be made, little visits, new conversations, much of it effervescent small talk at that. But it will never be mine. Perhaps I had made a difference. Perhaps I never did.
Whatever legacy I sought to leave in my time, my precious, deceptive, foundational time here, will be decided by my departure. The effect of a person is often better marked by their absence than by their presence. Maybe why I can’t leave, why I don’t want to, is because I fear that I haven’t left a legacy. That my space, my existence, will simply fade into the cyclic, monotonous heartbeats of life, and I will be forgotten like all others. Isn’t that what we all crave? To be remembered in some capacity? To be cherished, acknowledged, immortalized. Our way of desperately, futilely fighting off our own ephemerality. Our denial of our own transience. Maybe it is a simultaneous reflection of our desire to be loved. To be so loved and to belong so much that our absence is noticed, critical. Because, really, if we cannot be done without, doesn’t that mean we are needed? If we are missed, doesn’t that mean we are loved?
So we cling so tightly to these things, these ever nebulous, kaleidoscopic things, in wishful hopes that they will be unshaken, unchanging, unalterable, so as to reflect our belonging, our belovedness, our legacy. But each time, we return to a place that is no longer ours, no matter how many times people insist that it still is. We return to a place that no longer knows us, not like it once did. To people who, while still in love with us, no longer know us, not like they once did. And we realize how truly empty our hopes were.
I can’t bear the thought of returning to a place I once belonged and finding that I no longer belong, that it is no longer mine. No longer, golly, I’m starting to hate that phrase.
I want all of the new without losing any of the old. I don’t desire to be so selfish and greedy. So childish, as when I once believed all the world belonged to me. But goodbye is beginning to grate on my soul. The thought of leaving is akin to the stripping away of a piece of me. I can’t stand that thought. Though, as thought intensifies, I know I have been through this before. Many times before. The stripping away of a piece of me. The loss of a human I called my own, whether to death, or distance, or extenuating circumstance. The loss of a building that formed the center of my childhood as far back as I can remember. It is through all of these losses that I discovered my identity is not transient or nebulous, to be watered down by pouring rains, shaken about by tumultuous relationships, or dazed by everything else that changes. It is, once found in Christ, holy and eternal. But that fact doesn’t make any of those assaults, rain and tumult and change, any less painful. Maybe less dreadful, but not less painful, not easier. The best things in life don’t come easy. But mercy, sometimes I pray they would.
However, perhaps it’s good that this isn’t easy. This goodbye. If it was, what would be the point in saying goodbye at all? If it is easy, there is no attachment, there is no value, there is no reason. This goodbye will never, not now nor ever, be easy. But that is good. It means there were memories, there were smiles and laughter and joy. There was purpose. While it is difficult to live without home, or connection, or legacy, it is near impossible to live without purpose.