The Hardest Part of Leaving

For months, I dreamed about leaving.

I sat in coffee shops talking with friends about how we were going to live more exciting lives some day, I recorded every episode of House Hunters International, and I spent a lot of time taking virtual vacations on Google Street View.

For years before that, I dreamed about staying. 

I wanted to put down roots, to form lifelong friendships, to find a job I loved, and to spend less time hauling boxes in and out of dorm rooms and houses and city apartments.  I’ve always known there’s something valuable about staying.  Communities need the ones who stay—the ones who are dedicated and responsible and stable.  In the English language, it’s hard to describe the need to leave without using words like flighty, restless, or discontent, and that’s not who I wanted to be. 

But life didn’t turn out the way I expected.  Slowly, all the ties that held me to my life in the city I loved were untied, and I was holding on by only a few threads. I remember the moment when I realized I no longer had a reason to stay.  It was heartbreaking and maddening and strangely liberating all at the same time, and I knew in that moment everything was about to change. 

The hardest part of leaving is actually leaving. 

It’s easy to fantasize for months on end about “finding yourself”, or whatever the Travel Channel and Elizabeth Gilbert tell you to do, but eventually, you have to get on a plane. 

Much sooner than I expected, I was saying goodbye to the people I care about.  Much sooner than I expected, I was hauling my sleep-deprived self and two over-packed suitcases through customs in a country I had never been to before, trying to ignore the knot in my chest and the gripping terror of being stranded alone in Guatemala when I know exactly three phrases in Spanish. 

Likewise, the hardest part of living a different story is actually living a different story. 

Even in the midst of the craziest thing I have ever done, it’s easy to shut my door and watch Netflix.  It’s easy to think too much about the things I’ve left behind or plan out my future once I leave and ignore everything that’s happening around me right now.  Living a different story can be overwhelming and exciting and terrifying and beautiful all at once. 

There’s no moral to this story yet, but I know that in the end, it will be a story about leaving, and a story about coming home.  It will be story about experiencing life in a new place while also remembering the places and the people I left behind.  In stories like this one, we can’t choose to live the good parts and not the bad parts—we have to take the beautiful and the scary and the crazy and the uncertain all jumbled together.  In every life experience from going to college to moving away to falling in love, our choice is the same.  We can either accept the uncertainty of it all, or be stagnant. 

It reminds me of something C.S. Lewis said in The Problem of Pain.  He said “If we will not learn to eat the food that the universe grows—the only food that any possible universe could ever grow—then we must starve eternally.”  We can take what we are given and let it nourish and sustain us, or we can feel empty inside.  We can open our eyes and take in the wonder all around us, or we can keep them shut tightly, imagining our own endings to our stories. 

When I open my eyes, I see mountaintops covered by clouds and buses stuffed to their maximum capacity weaving in and out of traffic and busy street markets and students who are excited to learn. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but today, está bien.  It is good. 

The Hardest Part of Leaving