“How was it?” Everyone wants to know. “Was it hard to say goodbye?” “What do you miss already? What will you miss?”
Every part was the worst part, actually. I was saying ‘goodbye’ to many things and people I’m sure I’ll never see again this side of heaven: to my beach, my kiosk, the cafeteria, the students . . . goodbye to my friends . . . I hate it. I hate any kind of formality but I understand the psychology that says we need closure. But I hate endings in general. I will finish a book series and imagine the characters for weeks afterwards, lamenting the finality of that last page. So to go through such a thing in a chapter on my own life?
The hardest part wasn’t deciding to leave – the actions of others made that decision for me. The hardest part was saying goodbye. For the first time in my life I had to really say it, knowing how physically far away I would become to people I have grown to think of as family. People my heart still reaches to see every morning.
I struggled to say the words, to participate in the hugs (so long and so sweaty because Brasil), to walk through all the motions.
A few weeks ago, things were cloudy and painful and uncertain, but I could put one foot in front of the other and make it through the day. I splurged and got a massage in home. I played my soundtrack, got undressed, tucked myself under the sheets of my own bed and prepared to relax, wanted nothing more than to just relax, but. But I simply couldn’t. Her touch was too tender. Her whispered Portuguese asking if I was okay, if I liked the candle, the music, her simply caring over me . . .
I cried. It actually wasn’t the first time I’d cried during a massage. But it was certainly the first time that I became so congested from crying that I had to sit up and ask for a break because I could feel the mucus shifting into my brain and I couldn’t breathe and was panicking beyond any enjoyment of what was truly lovely.
In the dark, physically naked, and so exhausted of the political world and the work drama and the spiritual battles I was in that I was emotionally naked as well, it only took a few passes of her hand against the small of my back, up around my shoulder and down to my fingertips for me to start crying. I think it just felt good to feel like someone was taking care of me.
I cry a lot. I feel things deeply. I feel for my friends deeply. I feel for strangers deeply. I cry at commercials. Sometimes I can feel too much emotion building up in me, and I will watch youtubes about dogs reuniting with their owners, or wedding videos of strangers, and in between judging them for the amount of mason jars and flower crowns used, I cry as hard as I can just to get it out.
Or sometimes, in an effort to make something stop hurting, I try to not feel. I numb by consumption. One day at lunch a few weeks ago, I said out loud “I’m going to throw some pasta at these feelings.” and I meant it. I had three plates of pasta. Pesto pasta. I am allergic to pesto. But I did it. It’s a coping mechanism I am familiar with – does something hurt? Disappoint you? Did you fail at something? Throw a food at it. Chocolate, pizza, anything that is a carb. Fries are good. Then when I was old enough, I could throw a drink at it, too. Throw a credit card at it and hit Target on the way home from a bad day.
Or I will even throw a good-thing-disguise on pain – Exercise! put on your shoes and walk until you can’t feel anything but blisters; Charity! give away all your stuff until there is nothing to care about; Busyness! work at something until you’re too tired to notice or feel your own hurts; Social Life! stay up so late skyping your support network back home that you’re too exhausted the next day to notice you’re miserable. Disguise it as carpe diem and take every vacation, eat every meal, drink every drink, meet every person and every sunrise and simply play so hard you can blame your lack of focus and lack of feel on that.
I think that’s what happened in Rio. There was so much pain and confusion. And I tried a million ways to try to make it not matter. I tried to ignore that going to work made me cry, made me nauseous, made a skin condition – which I affectionately referred to as ‘leprosy’ in a nod to our supposedly Christian school – break out so badly over my hands that my fingers cracked and bled. I lost motivation, creativity, empathy, respect, and called it a sleeping problem that I threw pills at. At the worst, at the lowest, happening more often than I care to admit, there have been times over the last few months when I questioned my faith.
I oscillated between feeling nothing at all and feeling everything at all times.
Last summer in the States, right before returning to Rio I was
burning my money getting a fourth root canal treatment on a stubborn back molar. It had been a tortuous six month process that had begun in Brasil. I came in for a checkup, and after a scan he said I didn’t need further work, I smiled so hard I cried, too. Both he and the assistant shifted back in their chairs in surprise. “You’re so beautiful when you smile,” he said. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen it.”
A close friend I work(ed) with said the same thing to me two weeks ago, after the decision to leave had been made. She said it as though she hadn’t seen me truly smile in months. It hit me, hours later, how very scary that was.
I got to the States on Wednesday. It’s just been a week. The journey here was uneventful, except did you know that people don’t exactly like sitting next to sobbing women on planes? The guy next to me actually put his blanket over his head and kept it there for 10 hours. Pausing only once to jab me in the love handle while I was in a deep sleep, to which I responded with a fist that almost made contact with his blanketed face and a big “WHY.”
On my first walk on the trail by my parents’ house, I was feeling out of shape, I was congested from allergies and residual crying over whom and what I missed and what could have been. But the sun was out, the trees on point, all my favorite benches were still there, a new park was being built. I was texting about ten people simultaneously to make plans for the weeks ahead, listening to praise and worship music, fist-pumping to the lyrics, saying hi to the power-walkers and the guy who roller blades while pushing his dog in a stroller. And I was headed back towards the house and the dogs and Mexican food and sweatshirts and my mom and I realized that what I was feeling was truly free, truly happy, with an unknown future ahead of me. Unknown but with incredible potential.
There is this massive guilt at having left my friends, my students. There is professional guilt at having left a school year undone. There is a sense that I have failed in some way, despite knowing I had already reached and pushed past my limit several times.
But it does seem like it is the year for strong and brave women to stand up for their convictions and to stand up to tyranny.
And I’ll never be ashamed of standing up for my friends and standing up for Jesus. I have found my bottom line. I only wish I could have packed all my friends and fav students to bring with me. Where ever I go. All the time. For all of time.
I am about to turn 33. My friend called it the year of promise – the year Christ was crucified and rose again, the doubling of two important numbers, a kind of sacred moment or middle.
I don’t really want any part of the getting crucified bit…but…I’ll take rising out of the ashes like a Jesus-friendly phoenix.
I’m single, without a job/car/laptop/plan/income/health insurance, living with my parents, in debt, with no home church, struggling with faith and feeling things fully again. Everything I own fits into five suitcases. I sold all I could and put everything else on hold to go work on missionary wages at an international school three years ago and I have made some incredible memories and established some lifelong friendships, but now I have to figure out the next chapter in this life feeling emotionally scarred and with a pretty serious case of credit card debt and. I just don’t know.
So I’ve decided the only thing that I can in fact be in control of is how I spend my time. And I’ve decided to just say “yes” to it all. Do you want to go on a hike? Yes. Need a navigator to get to your grandma’s house? Yes. Visit a museum you’ve always wanted to go to? Yes. Need a babysitter? Yes. A traveling companion? Yes! I’m going to take these next few months to embrace the heck out of all life offers. I’ve had so many people come out of the woodwork to offer support in the last few months…I’m going to take it.
It is nice to see that people are really good. I’ll keep you up to date about it. Let me know if you want to be a part of it.
And if you haven’t heard it today, and you need to, you are good and you are worthy of all good things.