Editor’s note: Anyone serving overseas can relate to the truism of the post below: The life of an expatriate–missionary life included–is filled with farewells. “Goodbye” doesn’t just launch a life overseas. It defines part of this new, transitory existence.
Whether you have yet to say your overseas-bound goodbye or are prepping for more, Rebecca Hopkins can relate.
I hand over my gift and fumble at the words.
My friend looks at me, her face stoic, almost nonchalant and it’s hard to know if I’m doing this right.
I should be better at this. How many times have I said “goodbye” over the years?
There were the zillions of moves I made as both a kid and an adult. And here in Indonesia, expats come and go and goodbyes are anticipated or very sudden. But they happen all the time.
I’m moving to another part of Indonesia in a few weeks. And I’m saying goodbye a lot like I’ve lived life here over the years—sitting on the floor of a friend’s house, bouncing back and forth between awkward small talk and serious heart stuff, my kids fighting for space on my lap, knocking over glasses of hot tea onto the wooden planked floor, a light morning rain tapping on the metal roof.
Throughout ten years of visits with friends, I always feel both totally out of my comfort zone and completely in my element.
I guess you could say the same thing about my relationship with moving. Somehow I feel very at home with packing up and starting over. And yet it also makes me feel lost every time I do it.
I wish I could say there is more “good” in all of my goodbyes here. But just like daily life here, they’re a bit messy, confusing, and almost always sweaty.
I go, intending to say the right word of thanks, and hope for some kind of satisfying closure, but usually, it feels like we’re being interrupted. Maybe the friend is in a crisis and I’m not really sure it’ll end up okay. Or I’m still learning how to love well in this culture, in my second language, and I’m pretty sure I’ve left behind a long list of misunderstandings and offenses.
Then I wonder about the stoicism I see. Does the goodbye matter? Do I?
I bet I look stoic sometimes, too. But really, I’m distracted…by my kids hiding in my shoulder so they don’t have their picture taken again, by the sound of the mosque’s call to prayer, or by my own desire to just have this goodbye over with so I can go home and hide, too.
Sometimes I get a text later with more honest feelings and that should feel better. But that just makes me feel sad, too.
That “Lost” Period
I know it’s going to be okay. The next place is exciting and the people are great and the work there is amazing and I need to just get there and move forward and grow roots and a bunch of other cliches that do actually work.
But still…right now I’m in that “lost” period. And I’m wondering if anyone else out there is here with me, too?
One small decision this week helps me. I plan to cut a branch off my plumeria tree—the one my husband gave me for my birthday a few years ago—and take it with me on the plane ride. Then I’ll plant it at my next home.
It seems a little silly and indulgent, especially because the next yard has its own plumeria trees already. But then I remembered how my mom would pack up all her plants and stick them in the back of our station wagon and take them to the next Army post.
Like she knew, too, that taking living things from your last home would help you figure out life in the next one.
Sometimes I need to remember life doesn’t end just because your time in the last place does.
What about here?
But what of my work? I set a date for myself when I’d force myself to pull out of everything. The orphanage. The hospital visits. The neighbor in crisis. And then I keep extending it…then moving it up.
Can’t decide if it’s better to put it off until I’m neck-deep in boxes, for one more visit while I’m just down the road, or just rip off the band-aid. Both sound bad.
And what about my fears? There are people who are coming after us who will never know me here in this place, on this team. What happens to the place I had in this place?
It’s small, I know. I’m small. This island is small. But me, here in this place for this time, mattered to me.
All the adventure and growth and friendships and faith and pregnancies and flights and prayers and disappointments and doubts and grace—they all mattered to me. What happens to all that?
I know. Some of it goes with me. It changed me, after all, broke me to pieces then healed into something new.
And some of this place will remain. This has been the hardest part for me to believe. But in case you’re going through your own goodbye or bad-bye, I want to remind us both. Just as the relationships matter to us, we mattered to friends, too.
The Hello-Goodbye Circle
One of my childhood tricks for coping with moves was to sagely remind myself that every tear-filled goodbye started with a scared, hope-filled hello and many hellos end up in teary goodbyes.
That sounds like a lot of tears. But the point is, those goodbyes have to happen so the next hellos can happen so the next goodbyes can happen and I’m starting to wonder how I ever found this comforting.
It seems I’m not in the mood tonight for my own pep talks. But I’ll finish this by asking this: Is there anyone out there saying goodbye, too?
I thought so. Then let’s be a little bit lost in all the goodbyes and hellos together.
Rebecca Hopkins (www.rebeccahopkins.org) wants to help people feel heard, seen and welcome. She spent the first half of her life moving around as an Army kid and the past 14 years trying to grow roots on three different Indonesian islands while her husband took to the skies as a pilot.
She now works in Colorado for Paraclete Mission Group and writes about issues related to non-profit and cross-cultural work. Trained a journalist and shaped by the rich diversity of Indonesia, she loves dialogue, understanding and truths that last longer than her latest address.
Like this post? You might like
- Goodbyes: Managing Your Painful “Lasts”
- Make It Count: The Art of Saying Goodbye
- When Did “Home” Become a Difficult Word?
- On Trusting God with Those We Leave Behind