Wednesday, July 3, 2013

On Leaving

Thank goodness essays are strict little things with rules and parameters—otherwise I’d be lost here, on the floor of the airport Starbucks smelling the shoes of the non-patrons who stole my spot at a corner table next to the electric socket while I paid for my right to sit here with Tazo Brambleberry herbal infusion. I’m a little lost because while part of my mind is consumed with the need for throwing them dirty looks, most of the rest of me is grappling with the enormity Leaving.

Leaving is tricky. Goodbyes are tricky. They’re not always sad things, nor happy things, nor complicated things, nor simple. They’re not always emotional. They’re not always for always. Sometimes they’re unsaid. Sometimes sung. Sometimes they take months, and sometimes they are only three quick hugs before you jump on your bus which will soon run into a taxi because Korean road rules (i.e. looking when you’re driving) are . . . flexible.

Sometimes you share a bucket of ice cream and sometimes you share how disappointed you are. Only five hours ago I stood in front of my church—shaking—and censured them for ignoring the young, single women of the congregation, for relegating them to the corner of the church reserved for gifts like childcare and the chat-happy welcoming committee away from corner with sermons, decisions, depth. Some goodbyes hurt. Other goodbyes are arguments, stories, gifts.

Saying goodbye to my apartment was harder than I thought it would be—Stockholm Syndrom, perhaps—as is leaving behind a city I’ve spent two years loving and hating. How do you say goodbye to the snoozing ahjusshi stretched out on the bank’s front steps, the Engrish on the sign above him, the gaggle of teenagers nearby hitting each other, the vomit-inducing cuteness of their cell phone cases and the couples t-shirts they’re wearing? Pictures assuage the bizarre surge of affection, but they can’t capture the smell of old people on the subway, the taste of hoddeok, the banal glory of Korean high-rises.

But with every Leaving comes an Arriving. I’m excited to arrive at a Taco Bell sometime in the near future, to arrive at a plate full of my dad’s pancakes. When I arrive at an American-sized house, with American excess of space, American stars at night, American people with their refreshing blunt humor—I anticipate great rejoicing on my part.

There truly is “a time for all things, a season for every activity under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 3 and its list of opposites—keep, throw away; scatter stones, gather them; weep, laugh—is never more obvious than in a traveler’s life. “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity into the hearts of humankind, yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

So I call it beauty, this whirlwind of opposites and the unexpected. It is beautiful because it is time. Change excites me and upsets my stomach, but it is appropriate. My two years in Korea were informative, frustrating, and valuable, and (for good or ill) they are over. Just like an essay has structure (whether or not I’m skilled enough at adhere to it), so does life. Conclusions confound me nearly as much as goodbyes, but they are timely, necessary things. And abrupt.

I upgraded from the smelly-foot floor to one of the comfiest seats in the café while writing this. My Brambleberry herbal infusion is insisting I find the nearest lavatory and my type-A personality has finally moved on from worrying about my seat- and socket-stealing comrades in the corner to getting my sleepy self through security. I cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end, but I can at least get my laptop into a plastic tray, yawn my way through a couple lines, and get on a plane. Because it is time, I can leave. Also, because I'm sick of airports.

Moses was a great student this semester. 

A last heoddeok!

Isaiah made the journey in style.

The Busan bus system said goodbye by getting crashed into by a taxi. I'd been waiting two years for that to happen. So pleased.

Goodbye Yeongdo!


  1. I thought about trying to get close and say more goodbye Sunday, but you know how I feel. And The Bear will always be just a click away. Looking forward to following from afar the next stage of your journey!

  2. On to the next adventure!