I have traveled and moved (or had others move) enough in my lifetime to have unconsciously developed a coping mechanism for the emotional trauma of saying good-bye. Apparently, my mind and heart have learned not to feel, even when I’ve tried (seriously) to make myself cry at times when it seemed inappropriate to have dry eyes. That is, until the moment has passed, the change has occurred, the miles are well behind me, the hugs have been had, and I’m alone in the new place and the reality of the situation settles into my bones.
I should explain that this has not always been the case. As a child, I was notorious within my family for having over-the-top dramatic reactions to saying good-bye. As a child of about 4 I recall standing behind the screen door of our Iowa city house waving and sobbing as friend Josh walked away from having dinner with my family to his house that was just around the block. When I was just 21 months old, we moved from Rochester, New York to Iowa City and my grandma moved with us and stayed for several weeks. Then she left. The next time she came to visit I gave her the silent treatment. I was tortured in 3rd grade by the fact that I cried more over my best friends’ moving away than by my grandfather’s death (both happened the same year). Another favorite family story is about the time I wandered into another best friend’s home the day she was to leave for Seattle, this time around 8th grade, and claimed that the dust was aggravating my allergies making my eyes water–the truth, of course, was that the sight of all her things packed up was just too much to bear and the tears seemed to flow freely of their own accord (my sister still teases me if she sees me cry at something silly by asking, “oh, is it your allergies?”)
Then, in 11th grade, when I was 17 and we moved from Philadelphia to Nashville over the Christmas holiday, I noticed a distinct change. There I was, hugging the boyfriend I was breaking up with b/c of the move, and my sobbing best friend, not crying. I thought, “I should be crying,” if for no other reason than to let the people I’m leaving know that I really am sad about leaving them. Naturally I started crying in the car on the way to the airport and immediately thought, “now? Now my crying doesn’t do anybody any good!” and this has more closely resembled my MO ever since—a cavalier farewell followed by uncontrollable private sobs. The pattern established itself into adulthood as I neglected to feel homesick until my second year of college, waited to cry until Eric pulled out of the driveway on his many visits during our long-distance courtship, and was at least halfway between Geneva and London before my heart truly sank after leaving L’Abri back in 2005.
I believe that part of the reason for this shift is a recognition, which can only come with a certain amount of emotional maturity, that any situation that presents great change is inherently a mixed bundle of disappointment and potential, excitement for adventure and fear of the unknown, and perhaps relief to get out of one rut even if it means jumping right into a cold, unfamiliar but fresh pond. As a child, I saw only one side, the side of loss, the end; but as an older (even if slightly insane) adolescent I could at least acknowledge the beauty of a new story. But I also think some other explanations have more to do with a certain emotional dishonesty we learn as adults: it consists of denial and a bit of self-depricating belief that it’s selfish assume others are going to miss ME (so I shouldn’t try to make y’all feel bad by crying in front of you, I should keep it to myself), plus it’s considered practical, appropriate, and polite to keep crying private.
So here I am again, facing another move, a whole huge list of unknowns, and having to say good-bye, even if it’s just for a time. We leave on Monday to travel to Nashville for the holidays, and from there we will fly to London in January where we will stay until at least the end of April. This week I have been diligently neglecting the tasks of packing in favor of 2 major occupations—sewing gifts for new babies (some of whom I won’t see before we leave) and spending whatever time I can get with dear friends. My mind makes lists, attempts to quantify the change that’s about to occur, develop plans to address the logistics of the next few months, but this is part of the coping mechanism–I’m acutely aware that the mental knowledge of the situation has yet to transform into emotional reactions. It will happen—perhaps on Sunday when we say good-bye to everyone at church, but perhaps not until we are in our flat in London getting settled and I realize there’s no one (yet) to just call up and meet for coffee, invite over for a knit-and-chat session, or go for a walk in the park.
I have written this a lot for myself to work through it, but also so that all of you know not to take my apparent lack of emotion at face value. As I sum this up, I must admit that it is my friendships here in St. Louis that have started turning me back into a more emotionally honest person, and for that I am deeply grateful, regardless of when the tears actually begin show up.