“Absence is a house so vast that inside you will pass through its walls and hang pictures on the air.” ~Pablo Neruda
For what it’s worth, I am horrible at goodbyes. At least that’s what I thought. Maybe it’s because every one of us, deep down, has a fear of abandonment. Or maybe I only speak for myself. When I was little my mom would travel for work , often for weeks at a time. Whenever I’d see the empty suitcases on the floor as she would start the preparations for what I would imagine would be another long stretch without her booming, magnetic voice resounding throughout the house, she would tell me, “it’s just a little goodbye until we see each other.”
To a small, terribly shy child these were not the words I wanted to hear, for even though I trusted my mother with all my being, the process of waiting for her to walk back through the door was excruciating. I became accustomed to the telltale signs of fear creeping in — the tightening in my stomach, the sweaty palms and the nervous cries as I realized I would not see her, and would aimlessly seek comfort in the perfume that lingered on her clothes, her pillow — as if by inhaling her scent I would magically bring her back.
Don’t get me wrong: my mother was not necessarily excited to leave me, but the demands of being the primary breadwinner in the family were more pressing. Plus, she was good at her job — her energy was contagious, her heart open and generous, and her reporting award-winning. She was, and still remains, a force within her community. I owe so much of my own confidence and drive to her. In the midst of such love you’d think it absurd to fear abandonment. But it took me years to step outside of this fear and into my own sense of ‘self’. This is the most precious gift her love has provided— the experience of knowing I belong in this chaotic world of goings and comings, of hellos and goodbyes.
Which brings me to something I’ve been thinking about lately, which Diana Ross so perfectly captured, the idea that we’re always saying goodbye.
Rivers go on and on
The sun always shines
The people just run out of time
Why are we here
Where do we go
Just when we’ve learn the little we know
Life , love and dreams
End with the sigh
We’re always saying goodbye
Like this 70’s classic, I have accepted this state of perpetual goodbyes as part of life — and with it, comes an attachment to permanence, to comfort, and the fear that this is not the case at all can be overwhelming. The fear of change, of not having a concrete plan laid out. The fear of disappointing your partner, your friends, but above all, the idea of shattering this concept of self that you’ve constructed. Of a self that measures itself against society’s idea of success, of beauty, of kinship. Maybe this is where the ego comes in. In fact, in the 28 years of my pretty ordinary existence, I have, again and again, come to realize that there are no rules. We are all just here for a short period anyway — we can make the best or the worst of what we are given.
Despite the pounding in the heart that signals you to turn back, I believe we have the power to transform the landscape of our lives. Every day provides us with the opportunity to take chances, make choices, or simply, remain as we are in that moment. Until the craving for a different view, a new perspective, a new place, comes crashing into our field of vision. Nothing is permanent. In Buddhism, this concept is known as ‘Anicca,’ according to which, impermanence is an inescapable fact of human existence from which nothing that belongs to this earth is ever free.
According to the teachings of the Buddha, life is comparable to a river. It is a progressive moment, joining together to give the impression of one continuous flow. It moves from cause to cause, effect to effect, one state of existence to another, giving an outward impression that it is one unified movement, where in reality, it is not. The river of yesterday is not the same as the river of today. The river of this moment is not going to be the same as the river of the next moment. This river is your life. It changes continuously, becomes something or the other from moment to moment.
This has provided me, ironically, with a steady level of comfort. To know that we are not trapped or locked up in the spaces of our minds — that we are free to change. That love changes us, and that if we can hold on to this love, we can break open and allow other things to grow and take shape.
As I write this, I am in the midst of packing the contents of our apartment. A decision to leave our cozy jobs has opened up a new world of possibility, where fear and hope dance alongside each other every day. Sometimes fear wins, and breath helps to tame it. Other times, small miracles happen — you arrive at a place of ease, between the extremes of fear and bliss — a middle ground.
I have left my full-time job and have accepted a freelance consultant position because I wanted more time to create. Literally and physically. I feel maternal yearning starting to take shape and the idea of having time with our families to raise our children has taken precedence, but has filled us with an excitement I never knew existed. Of course, I have also lost sleep mulling over questions I don’t know the answers to. The familiar tapping of stress on my shoulder comes and goes.
Concurrently, I have felt a pressure ease in my chest — the pressure to live up to the idea of success I grew up with — that professional life should not only define you, but fulfill you. When all I really want is to stop time in a particular moment and say: “Let’s not forget this.” For what we are seeking has no price tag — it is the sheer magnitude of this time, whatever illusion that may be, but one that gives us the promise of presence. There is a secret thrill in trusting your instincts, in letting go of others’ expectations, and having a partner that chooses to make this journey with you. I am grateful.
I have made a bucket list of sorts — all the places that remain to be explored in San Francisco — that are calling out before we embark on this new adventure, of not knowing what it is exactly we want, but finding that we crave more time to spend with the people that we love and starting a little family of our own. For now, I take pleasure in savoring this place, in walking through our neighborhood, for the 1000th time, and seeing the sun set over the pine forest two blocks down, knowing that I will soon wave from the plane as it makes its way across this beautiful bay, and whisper, “this is just a little goodbye.”