Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Saying goodbye - a cautionary tale in five chapters and a prologue...

I traditionally come to things a bit later than others. I convinced myself that an "advanced" high school diploma was necessary, so I went back to High School for one year to achieve that goal. Once I got into University (after taking a year off to work) I messed around in general studies for a while before finally taking another year off and finding my way through a University tranfer program through a local college. Approaching my goal, I arrived with a full head of steam and I earned my success, but yeah - most of my friends had already graduated when I decided to head back to University for the last time.

So, I come to my first trip off of the continent. At the age of 31, it's finally time for a big adventure. But let me tell you what you likely already know - saying goodbye is hard, especially when you do it in stages. As my brother-in-law said to me tonight, it's like a band-aid is slowly being ripped-off, except instead of skin and the occasional hair, it's actually taking layers of your heart, and you really feel it.
I suppose goodbye for me starts at the beginning of a year: the last "whatever" gets marked for me. My last Thanksgiving. My last Christmas. My last drive down this street, or walk down that one. I had figured that I'd spent so much time earlier in the year focusing on "lasts" that I wouldn't have to deal with it these last couple of weeks. Boy was I wrong.

I know that these aren't "lasts" - though some of them may turn out to be. It's only a year - for now. The open-endedness of it is both thrilling and immemsely sad. The thrills come later. Right now it's about the Goodbyes - and I owe them some attention. Hence the bloated title of this blog. Maurice Sendak is an inspiration.

Chapter 1 - The Things You Do

Marking the time as your departure date gets closer means everything you did earlier in the year with enough attention to regard it as a "last" - at least for a while - starts to mean a lot more. My Mom and Dad took my sister and I, along with my two nephews to the Calgary Zoo for one last little family outing before I go. It was great. Being born in the same city I've lived in since means that I can recall with actual clarity, being the age my nephew is now. Only I'm not watching a memory of myself, I'm watching my own sister lead her son around as my mother did us years ago - showing us things, explaining when we inquire, letting us have our tantrums. It's all part of it.

Watching my 3 year-old nephew discover bugs, decide that he likes gardens the best, is more amazing than I suppose I ever thought it would be - and that's saying a lot. You try to mark these moments down so clearly in your mind because they're worth it. They deserve some reverance, and with departure date approaching, I'm prepared to give just that.

My nephew can be a little bit closed-off at this age ("Christian, your Grandpa wants a hug..." "No!") but this day he was fine - more than fine actually, and I was very grateful to be the tall uncle when we went to look at the giraffes together.

Chapter 2 - The People You Know

This past Friday, my parents decided to have a BBQ as a kind of going away for Steph and I. They weren't sure how many people would be invited, but after a morning that threatened rain, we were happy to have the evening turn into a semi-Woodstock of nearly 100 people hanging out in my parents' backyard. It was an attempt to see as many people as possible before we leave, and I think it worked.
Many of my friends have children now and the backyard beacame a nursery for friends who hadn't seen each other for a long time. Life gets crazy, but these moments are meant for such reunions. I only wish it had been for a welcome back instead - leaving makes future reunions seem like more of an obstacle than I'm sure they really are.

My parents are perhaps the best sports I know - opening their doors and gates to a mad rush of people, but I have to thank them because I honestly dont know if I've ever felt so much love in a room, or a yard I suppose. It's a lot of a little something to make the sadness of leaving a whole lot easier. But this was really the grand beginning of a few days of too many goodbyes. Sometimes you just don't want to let go of your friends.

Chapter 3 - The Community You Are A Part Of
Saturday saw more packing and errand running as well as the CAT Awards - a celebration of Community Theatre in Calgary. I have been actively involved with this community for the past ten years - getting more involved with each season. The support I have received from the group over the years has been overwhelming, and Saturday night was no exception. It was almost too much. It was too much.

I have never heard more kind and thankful words spoken than I did that night. The communities you decide to become a part of, you also have a small hand in building - I don't think I actually realized that until that night. The thought of leaving a community that has given so much back to me seems borderline insane, and certainly emotionally masochistic. But there it is. Without those people, I am a fraction of who I am now and it is not an inflated image of self I speak of, but rather a genuine humbleness forced upon you, whether it's a simple but somehow true recurring joke, being recognized among those infinitely more talented than yourself, or the joy of performing with a child that does it. Humility can hit like a hammer.

Chapter 4 - The First Crack

Yes, I do wear my heart on my sleeve far too often. But in most circumstances, I can easily adopt the see-saw method of sharing stress. Steph told me the other night that she wishes I could show a little more stress to make hers seem a little more normal - even things out instead of letting her hang in the air, her feet not touching the ground. Until Sunday, I guess I hadn't shown stress at all. But when your faced with sitting around a backyard fireplace with friends and family, suddenly goodbyes become real.

Maybe the previous goodbyes have softened you up enough to let some dents and scratches show. You are forced to deal with a goodbye that you can't turn away from because you have to attend to other guests or other events and duties. These goodbyes are real ones and they are sudden and much harder to take than before. You can't shrug them off as "see ya", because in a way, they're not. My heart felt heavy enough to excuse myself for a couple of hours - lost in packing is an easier place to be sometimes. Though you'd rather be with your friends, you simply can't stand the goodbyes anymore, because you really don't know if you have any goodbyes left in you.

Chapter 5 - Devastating Cuteness and Heartbreak

When you're packed, and pretty much ready to go, don't let your parents have a last family meal for you. What'll happen is this - you will sit around a table with your family - your parents, Aunt, Cousin, Sister, Brother-in-Law, and Nephews - with a dog in the backyard and dinner will go just fine. It's your favourite meal - the one you always requested for birthdays. Dessert is good too, but there's a little bit of final packing to do - baggage weight to check, and the kids are getting tired, so it's time to go. But before they do, your sister whispers in the three-year-old's ear and then he turns and comes walking towards you, giving up on any shy pretense he generally carries. He climbs-up on your lap and whispers into your ear: "You know what, Uncle Dave? I love you, and I'm going to miss you". That's when you know you really don't have any goodbyes left, and a voice that won't stop shaking. You simply can't say it anymore cause it's been kicked out of you by the people who will miss you the most.

I know very well that our departure is not as epic as a sad heart sometimes makes it out to be. We are not the first to leave for overseas for a long time. Still, we must give the moment its due. A year could pass faster than we ever though possible, but we know there will be tough times, and these times of goodbye, especially when the duration is uncertain, are difficult. But we mustn't dwell either - there are adventures ahead, and adventures to learn of here at home. I can't wait to start this next chapter. With the goodbyes almost officially taken care of, I can let go of this saddness for a while, and just focus on the fondness in place of the missing. I'm travelling across the world to teach children with the lady I love. It's time to see what's next.

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