Recently, this distantly familiar feeling has been revisiting me with stark poignancy. I remember exactly where I was the first time I felt it. I was in a taxi in China in 2006. My eyes started to sting, I leaned my head out the open window and looked up to keep anything from falling from them, but ultimately I struggled in vain. Sitting there, alone with seemingly no provocation whatsoever, I began to cry, not as silently as I had hoped, in the back of the taxi. The driver asked me what was wrong and I said I was going to miss living there. He asked me if I was leaving soon and I responded that I actually still had 6 months left (though at the time I didn’t know it would be a year and six months). I started missing China even before I left.
That feeling has been coming around again recently. Standing on the steps of the museum staring out at the peach colored sky fading into blue just above the richly forested mountain peaks, walking down the street looking at the palm trees framing the ornate temple rooftops, watching my staff joke around with each other and with me—during all of these things—that feeling lingers. Yesterday, a friend of mine who is returning to the states tomorrow said goodbye to some of my staff and they said, “Have a good trip and I hope to see you in Laos again.” Temporarily, my mind imagined that it was I who was leaving and I became immediately sad at the thought that this wouldn’t last. I knew it wouldn’t at that moment. I know it won’t as I type this. Whether its because of my new fondness for LP or my new aversion to goodbyes, the sadness I felt and feel at just the thought that a year and a half from now I will be leaving this place unsure when I will return is acute.
Psalm 90:2 says, ‘Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’ Now, whether you are religious or not, especially in light of recent events, you cannot deny that a mindset that our time is short here can put a whole lot else into its proper perspective. So, while I look forward to making the most of my remaining time here, there is another desire that has been weighing heavily on me almost since arriving here that I hope to be able to realize as well.
My 20s have been spent on the move. When I turned 20, I was living in New Brunswick, New Jersey for college. Two years later I was studying in Shanghai. A year later, I was in the Gobi desert, a year later, in Qingdao. On August 9, 2008 I moved to Cambridge. I lived in one apartment my first year and moved into a different one my second year. I got into my first choice grad school and so on August 15, 2010 I headed to Seattle. I lived in one house the whole time I lived there and then on May 10, 2012 moved again to Laos.
There was nothing lacking in this pattern in my mind up to this point. Since high school I had in my mind that I wanted to see the world (though I hadn’t seen any of it by then). I thought, I’ll move every few years somewhere new, never go back to the same place twice, and if I have to, I’ll do it alone, rather than permanently pair myself up with someone who makes this vision of mine impossible.
As I’ve been settling in here, as I’ve been growing to love it, as I’ve been digging in to my work, I’ve been very grateful for the experience—giddy, even, incredulous at my own fortune to have been given more than I could have asked for or imagined.
Now that I feel that I’m living the awesome future I had envisioned, things like marriage, kids, and putting down roots seem less threatening.
Which brings me to the big decisions I’ve made recently:
I want to spend my 30s in one city.
I want to get married (I’m not like, ‘eh if it happens it happens’).
I want to physically have children not just foster parent.
I’ve experienced the joys and challenges of frequent relocation and once my time here is up I’d really to experience the joys and challenges of staying put for a while. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever want to travel again, but I want a chance to get better at a job because I’ve spent more than two years there. I’d like to know a city in and out. I’d like to know eight year old community. I’d like to make long term investments in neighborhoods, local organizations, churches, and people.
I know that good-byes are an inevitable part of living, but I hope after Laos to make far fewer of them and much less frequently.