Friday, October 28, 2016

The art of saying goodbye

The year my family and I left Vienna was the first time I went through the beautiful yet somewhat agonizing process of 'farewell'. It may not have been the first time we moved away; in fact, this procedure had been a familiar friend since the day I was born, since as soon as my parents could take me out of the hospital, they packed our belongings from the pretty little town of Nyon to Geneva.
By 1999, I had called three countries and seven apartments home. Before, I was perhaps too young a child to fully comprehend the serious implications; but with puberty at its peek in the late 90's, with all that comes with it naturally, I became fully aware that I was not only packing bags; but memories. The best of friends I grew inseparable from over six years, my crush whom I reckoned to be the only one there will ever be, the great locations I hung out on a daily basis, all the reference points of my young life --  I was leaving it all behind. I was affected in the beginning - saddened and even furious to be subjected to it. Still, for a reason unbeknownst to me then, the best part of me remained incredibly calm face to this drastic turn of events; for not only did I accept change, I embraced it.

Sure, as the saying goes, it was not all roses. When I moved back to Switzerland into a new neighbourhood, the first months were difficult to adjust, as one can imagine it would be for a 14-year old. Unlike most people who live their whole life in one place i.e. who have the same bedroom simply decorated differently in accordance to age, who know their surroundings like the back of their hand and spend time with the same friends since kindergarten... I was the new kid who had to find - if not create - a nest again: it was quite a challenge indeed, but one that shaped my teenage self in every respect  - and continues to mold the core of my being til this very day. Point in fact, I have woven so many nests since then that now at the age of 31, my collection of goodbyes piled up to the extent that I practically do not know how to live without one. In this regard, it is not saying that people who do not have my upbringing do not understand the repercussions of creating, building oneself up and eventually mentally, wholeheartedly, really physically bid farwell; of course they do, especially in a globalized world such as ours today where going on an exchange, escaping to another city or even traveling the world has gradually turned into a standard, for the younger generation in particular. In this perspective then, one recognizes that this specific course of action makes a person start from zero again -- because it entails, as it was in my case many times over, a new town, a new culture, a new language, (a) new flat(s), new friends, new reference points. And I loved it every single time, the exhausting as much as the fun part of it, the tragedy and the excitement of it all, this constant instability. I am affected - saddened and even furious to be subjected to leave after at times. Still, for a reason I know all to well by now, the best part of me remains incredibly calm face to such a drastic turn of events; because I embrace this growth that only uncertainty can beget.

Each time, I had to go out of my way to find one. I had to reject the idea of a comforting past in order to welcome a yet-to-be steady present. I learned different languages in the hope and goal of meshing with the people and culture of that country. I never wanted to be one of those expatriates who is limited due to language barrier for instance. More than anything, I wished to be considered -- if not a local which, in fairness, was impossible to achieve - but at least feel like a glocal that fitted in. I worked hard for it and true to form, I am fairly certain that I managed to integrate myself in the places in which I resided. While some people frighten before such impermanence, such a force majeure; I am the first one to tell them not to reconsider a new beginning if the opportunity arises (even just once). Maybe it is habit that makes me reason this way; but to start afresh every couple of years has really taught me a valuable lesson -- a lesson I fathom only constant goodbyes can provide: the art of saying hello.

Undeniably, if farewells have been consistent throughout, as a result then, so have been the hellos. In time, it is certain that countless goodbyes did not necessarily involve departing from a place - but leaving a stage of one's life behind: the end of high school, the end of university, the end of a friendship, the end of a relationship, the end of a work contract -- not to mention the various more subtle sub-changes that occur in between. Of course, included are farewells we did not necessarily seek after and which were consequently forced upon us. In a way, whether one moves from one city to another like I did or not; in the end, are we not all authors of our lives who have, at some point, stared at a blank page cluelessly? Hello?

Without a hint of a doubt, change is not easy to endure. It never is in the beginning. Regardless of how much of an expert one is, regardless of endings that are needed or wanted, regardless of having a proper plan or not; withdrawal syndrome is an universal uneasiness. If routines do not keep us grounded; they certainly have the power to keep the cradle rocking to help us still sleep well at night. Truth of the matter is that we are creatures who unforgivably adore bathing in familiar waters. Accordingly, when something becomes unstable, we hold on so tightly to the safe grounds that are still left -- even if they just come in the form of memories. Thus, (re)adjustment is somewhat agonizing in the moment. It takes time. It takes courage. It demands guidance. It requires reassurance. A monster of an effort. Nevertheless, speaking from experience, I also discovered that it only always takes the time that it needs, the courage that it needs. Not less -- and definitely not more. Hello starts the second we reject the idea of a comforting (especially not so long ago) past to welcome a yet-to-be steady present. It continues with going out of our way to find one. And soon enough, the inner chameleon will work wonders. Because my goodbyes were so radical and still, I succeeded in starting anew without feeling any form of regret; then, I cannot repeat often enough that being thrown out from his/her comfort zone is the best -- if not the only way - to grow. To grow character. To grow attitude. To grow potential. To grow as a human being. When one puts his/her head and heart around that, all worries and doubts will simmer down. Indeed, hello is a precious miracle I grew to love with age; willing to experience over and over again. Whether the previous chapter spanned over fours months, four years or four decades; a beginning is the moment to reassess if one is truly satisfied -- happy, with one's life. It is also the moment to work on the routine that one desires and not just one to settle for. Moreover, it is the moment one realizes that there is always something new to learn, at any age, at any stage, in any wonderful or terrible circumstance the goodbye happened -- ultimately, nothing is written in stone except the past.

If I learned anything in this life, we are, first and foremost, products of our environment. Once more, in my situation, if I were to categorize my journey in chapters of the places I lived; I am conscious that who I was during the six years in Vienna to the person I was during my year in Oslo to the person I grew into in my nearly nine years in Zurich diverge in many ways because of the various nests I wove. It is given that one's personality does not ever completely alter; nonetheless, I did find out that who we are at a certain point can never be that person again. Never entirely. Stability slowly becomes a second skin and fundamentally, I evolve into who I am because I am easily molded by distinctive environments. I am a sponge to time, experiences, people and cultures - but once I have to leave it all behind, I also withdraw i.e. who I am from that environment. And as Azar Nafisi wrote so accurately: "you get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again." When restlessness prevails, one tends to look back. Nostalgia kicks in. One begins to idealize even bad times. A monster of a reflex. However, truth of the matter is that after a while, after one allowed him/herself to sincerely say goodbye i.e. tackle change as explained above; once hello settles in, readjusted to the new environment -- and perhaps it is inhuman to say this, but I no longer miss things; people, places and especially not who I was in that specific context. Not in absolute terms, at least. Not because I forget about them. Not because I leave them in the past where they belong. Not because I emerge as a brand new person. On the contrary, actually, I am the type never to forget anything - but I came to appreciate that every moment has led me to this very second: now.

Autumn is the season of mystery: bewildering, it plays with my head, it makes me question the very essence of change. Indeed, how captivating to witness a firework of colors come to life while being aware all along that things are just about to die. Perhaps we are truthfully at our liveliest, our most versatile before change sinks in. Facing yet another hello today, history taught me to only gather what I can hold valuable for the next step -- and that is only the best part of goodbyes: the love I experienced, friends who do not know the notion of time nor distance, skills I acquired and finally, my all-time favorite; the magic of a fleeting moment.