If I sift through the shadowy pathways of my memory, I will touch a hundred moments of parting and a thousand words of farewell in an instant.
A woman stands on a provincial train station platform with her son, waving goodbye, goodbye, goodbye as my train pulls away.
A friend hugs me in the pre-dawn shadows of an empty parking lot, then stands aside as my bus coughs to life and I step inside.
An open window lets in dust and exhaust fumes and the last echoes of Good luck!
The sterile lights of an airport terminal look on as I hug loved ones goodbye; they stay to watch as I pass through security and disappear.
A last smile at the threshold before the house, car, bus, taxi, train door closes. A last wave. A last glance.
These memories are steeped in the mixed emotions that partings will inevitably evoke—the fragrant cinnamon of nostalgia, and the piquant tingle of anticipation; the bitter smoke of an ending, and the sweet pine needle smell of journeys beginning.
When we travel often, some things become easier with practice.
We learn to sit with discomfort, be it overpacked buses, insufficient legroom, long flights, missed meals or interminable waiting—for delays, friends, food and horizontal sleep. And we come to accept a certain level of stress, uncertainty, insecurity—all fundamental tenets of life on the road—as the norm.
We learn the language of timetables and airport terminals, maps and foreign street signs, and perhaps we come to navigate these worlds with a degree of ease. We find ourselves at home in a sea of strangers, untroubled by change—exhilarated, even.
And finally, we become accustomed to goodbyes (comfortable may be too strong a word). Without a doubt we come to realize the ineptitude of words—the insufficiency of phrases like, I’ll miss you, See you soon, Good luck with everything, or even the more sardonic, Have a great life and, See you when I see you—to serve in these situations.
We become accustomed to goodbyes, yet there is no art to them, or none that I have found. No failsafe formula. No skillful lyricism to master.
Each one is unique in its blend of sadness, resignation, looking forward and looking behind.
Each one is, in its singular fashion, beautiful.
Or, this is what I am beginning to believe. For, more than cinnamon nostalgia or pine needle anticipation, a goodbye is steeped in love. Platonic, familial, romantic, age-old or brand new, this is love surrendered to the utter unknowability of what lies beyond this moment.
If that love, tempered by the bittersweet awareness of impermanence, is not beautiful, then I don’t know what is.
And so, as I say See you soon, Good luck, I’ll miss you, and Goodbye to friends and loved ones in the U.S. and turn toward the next leg of my journey, I hold onto that beauty, and my smile smells like cinnamon and pine needles, chili and smoke.