The coming’s and going’s in life are as numerous as the people who fill this world. Public transit in bustling cities carry strangers to and fro, every day, making it possible to never actually have to speak to the person beside you. Most students graduate, leave and enter new communities twice before turning twenty-three. World travel is as accessible as finding a travel and language guide book in Barnes & Noble—eliminating any need to learn a new language or hire a human tour guide.
We are a wandering people. It’s part of our fallen humanity. But we are lost sons and daughters who long for home and belonging in the deepest part of our being. We defy our very makeup in our denial of this tension and reality. Riding the U-Bahn in silence, I’m reminded of my own transience, my loneliness among other lonely strangers. In dodging the loquacious chatter of my neighbors, I only deceive myself of my independent, self-empowered existence who doesn’t have time for small talk. All such habits plead: Please don’t make me plant roots here, with you.
We dread the pain of loss in our goings. But we are scared to death of this restless wandering too. Every goodbye spoken and every transition limboed reminds us that these realities of life are not the way things are supposed to be.
We were made for the coming.
It’s the picket fence picture of the American Dream and the premise of privately-hosted vacation rental sites like Airbnb. My last host through this company recently welcomed my friends and I to her glamorous bungalow atop Lake Como, Italy by introducing her daughter to us, supplying peach iced tea, and giving us directions to the best pizzeria in town. We are desperate for any attempts at finding home for our weary hearts.
Lately, I have felt the wandering even more acutely while in my last days in a particular place. I imagine the door of most boarding schools is a revolving one, but for some reason the goodbyes that were spoken at graduation yesterday did not feel natural at all. Graduation ceremonies have always marked an end of an era, but at an international school the reality of students’ past experiences remind us all, This could be the last time I see you. Following the ceremony, the graduates, students, parents, teachers, dorm staff, and administrators enter the huddle in the courtyard at the front of school to say their last goodbyes. Dorm sisters who have lived together since middle school embrace while sobbing. Last pictures are taken and affirming words exchanged. No dry eyes can be found. I have to make my goodbyes to the seniors hurriedly in order to get two students to the airport on time. I missed getting to say goodbye to one of my girls while I was gone. Goodbyes are not only uncomfortable, but they also don’t go as planned.
This going is an especially hard one, the type when you realize you found the once-unfamiliar, home after all, only to now be leaving that home. But as our dorm grows quieter and the airport runs continue on gradually, I grow more thankful for these hard goodbyes because it means I found home even if just for a season. These people who shared both joyful and painful experiences with me, became home.
I’m learning that the only way to come out winning in this life of wandering is to press into the grind, allowing ourselves to really and deeply feel the pain of each and every loss. We are to grieve what we are designed to grieve. It doesn’t have to get easier with time. It’s not about comparing emotional staminas with another or trying to be strong by holding back tears. It’s about making the lasts count while also giving grace when we fail to check off every item on our bucket lists. It’s when we release ourselves from our own expectations of what transitioning well should look like. It’s about remaining fully alive and present in each gift of the moment we’re given. I hate going but I know it is necessary for the coming. And eventually, the new and scary things of the coming will pass too.
As I prepare to fly back to the states for a few months and then return to Germany in September, I also want to enter and reenter fully present, ready to embrace the gifts of this brief season. Along this journey I want to talk to strangers, enter into friendships sincerely, and make more hard goodbyes. I want to settle into the discomfort of change and experience a new place and people unfold into another home. I want to always be making home as I await the final homecoming.