Today Sarah joins her college classmates and sets off by plane for Greece. She’ll study nursing in Thessaloniki for three months. Probably visit other cities, and even other countries, while she’s there. She’s considering more travel around Europe after the semester ends.
Why not? She’s young. Relatively footloose and commitment-free. When is there a better time?
And what can substitute for life experience, when it comes to education? Books and professors are great. They give us context. Theories. Even practical ideas that we can apply in the real world.
Yet lessons often come the other way, too. Firsthand. In person. As realities that we handle and experience. Eventually, to make space in our minds and hearts for greater understanding, we must touch, see, think about and feel events, cultures, people and ideas for ourselves. We cannot fully appreciate the similarities and differences that make the world so complex — sometimes beautifully so, other times tragically so — unless we take the chance to engage it.
She’s traveling to the second-largest city in Greece, steeped in history of many cultures, ethnicities and faiths. For instance, some of its inhabitants appear in the sacred text of the New Testament in letters from the Apostle Paul; she’ll walk some of the sacred sites I’m studying in books. She’ll reside in and explore ancient ground that was holy, thousands of years before Christianity was ever born, populated by Greek deities and temples. She will live in the multicultural realities of a city that was once a bustling part of the Byzantine empire, became a sanctuary for Jews outcast from Spain for a period of about 400 years. It joined the Greek nation in the early 20th century, burned in 1917, was largely rebuilt, and was home to thousands of refugees in the wake of a ‘population exchange treaty’ between Greece and Turkey in 1923. It remains a vibrant and diversely-populated place. For more detailed information, visit www.greecetravel.com/thessaloniki/introduction.html
We’ll stay here in Boston. Say good-bye and watch her walk across a threshold. It’s a coming of age moment, as she launches herself into the world, to learn lessons from her college classrooms and other lessons on the streets or in the cafes, shops, and other hangouts around the city.
I expect, as we say good-bye, that she will continue to experience her own partings. She’s leaving behind her high school self. Her friends are all already on their college campuses. Or finding jobs and moving away from home. Or serving in the military. Beginning the next phase of their young adult lives. Sarah, too, will let go of childhood and start anew.
When she walks through the security gate and later through customs, she will be walking into a new world. And a new part of her life.
And here? Though we aren’t flying away, but staying home, we’re also beginning the “next step” in our family life. Whatever that might mean … whatever shape it takes … big house, empty rooms, long work or school days, late nights, early mornings … two of us trying to make chances to connect. Finding purpose in our adult lives, now that we have started Sarah on the path to her own life apart from us. And always, the way parents do, thinking about both of our daughters.
Somewhere, Jessie fits into this transition. We’ve said good-bye before. Farewell to Jessie was different. This day, as Sarah waves and joins her classmates, this is the good-bye you’re supposed to say to a child. It means you’re doing what you should, helping your child take steps toward adulthood and independence.
After all, it’s not permanent. It’s not forever.
Yet we also realize … the young woman who comes home again after her adventures… she will be Sarah. But she will be a new, changed, more mature and experienced Sarah.
Sure, I thought I was ready to let her go. Stoic. I knew, cognitively, what this separation meant. I talked myself through it. Rallied around its importance and symbolism. Believe it’s good and right for her to do. But there’s a difference between knowing something and feeling it. It’s easy to know something with your head, but much tougher to live through it with your heart.
So I thought it would be easy enough to get ready and say farewell, because this departure has been happening in stages for several months. Years, even.
Yet we’re all on edge. Trying to be gentle with each other, but equally prickly and moody and temperamental. Right now, we often say or do the wrong thing, as often as we make the right choices, to help each other through this good-bye.
My husband I will be different, too. All of us – humans — change. Nobody is static, fixed to one moment in time and space, unable to transition. Life and consciousness itself is a response to stimuli. All humans, even when we feel stuck, are somehow in flux, moving, transforming.
We’ll all get through it. And blossom on the other side of the transition. Yet that doesn’t make the moment of parting any easier. In order to hold the love, you must also hold the pain.