Marking significant moments in people's lives is not only important, but you often add to the dividend of peace and joy in this world.
I came to say goodbye.
I do this a lot.
It’s not my favorite thing to do. But my work over 20 years has been focused on international students, scholars, wives, couples and families. I have said goodbye more than the average person, I believe.
They come. For six months, a year, 18 months or two – occasionally shorter or longer. They become a part of the very fabric of our life experience, entering our story and, by doing so, changing it ever so slightly, or sometimes with an intensity we weren’t expecting.
And then, like that, they leave.
This is just part of the total picture.
Not that they should remain. They have finished their degree program. Or their husband has. Or their job or university is calling them back home. After all, it would be unnatural – and often illegal – if they remained.
But my heart is churned every time. Even though, in our world today, we can remain in touch. So much better than two decades ago, when I began this unusual yet entirely fulfilling work I do. I am a builder and caretaker of relationships. I am an ambassador of my community, my country and my God. I am a diplomat with no official title, but doing the work of a statesman (really, woman).
I will never, ever regret it for a moment.
It’s not a path I foresaw. With an undergraduate degree in International Relations, I expected to be in the halls of power. I intended to craft policy. I wanted to be living as an ambassador or diplomat in amazing places all over the globe. Not just for fun, but for hard work.
But that’s not how my life unfolded.
Instead, the world came to me. To my relatively quiet, but deeply connected, corner of the world. To a place where many from scores of countries have found to be a place they’d return to in an instant, given a chance.
So I came to say goodbye.
This time to Elira, from Albania. They would be leaving for home in three days.
Her one-and-a-half year-old, Lena, moved with alacrity around the mostly empty apartment, in the buff save the essential diaper. She ran behind her mommy’s legs at first, but as time went on, she shed her shyness and invited interaction.
“I am so happy to have this last time with you,” Elira told me. “You know, in Albania we say, "The house of Albania belongs to God and the guest." And then she proceeded to offer me food she had prepared in the midst of her move, a spread both simple but diverse (and gratefully healthy).
I was both moved to tears and ready to sing with joy, all at once.
Indeed, her efforts touched me deeply. I have experienced this before, but I once again found myself a beneficiary of the goodness of other cultures, other ways of life. Of the generous heart.
The way the food she prepared was so thoughtfully presented, and yet in its simplicity I found a resonating truth: We don’t need to be elaborate, just genuine. The heart speaks louder than the price tag on the gift. The presence is the true gift as well.
Elira came to our area about two-thirds through her pregnancy. She gave birth in a foreign land, in a medical system she did not know. Fortunately, it went smoothly for her.
But the experience of becoming a new mom, coupled with being in a new country alone, was anything but easy. Giving up her job (which her company held for her), her lifestyle back home, and suddenly being in a place where only one other person spoke her language – this provoked an extreme loneliness at first.
“Adjusting to being a mother – it’s a big deal – even without all those other changes,” I reassured her.
“But I’m so glad I found your group,” she responded. “It made me feel not so alone because there are many other new moms like me from all over the world. I made friends.”
She was referring to our International Wives Connection (IWC), the outreach group I currently lead in my city.
I would agree. It definitely fills a need not met through other channels, even the ESL (English as a Second Language) classes. This is especially true when one has a very young child.
The time with Elira was short, but sweet. You might actually say bittersweet. I waved goodbye from my car, wondering when we might see each other again. I suspect it’ll be on her side of the ocean.
The art of saying goodbye
Life is full of so many goodbyes. You'd think my work would mean I would have gotten my emotions in check by now and mastered this. But no.
Every time, something swells up within me. I know a part of my heart is traveling halfway around the world. A connection has been made, a friendship formed, a bond developed, a new world begun.
I resonate so deeply with Anaïs Nain's perspective:
Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.
This quote makes me consider how many worlds are swirling in me, and how the add so much to who I am and what I can contribute to the world.
How about you? How do your friendships – especially across cultures – impact who you are?
Image credit: Author's photo
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