The countdown to graduation grants perspective rarely found: It isn’t every day that we’re forced to confront the temporality of rooting oneself in a place, in a people, and in a certain cadence to life. It is times like this when I am tempted to say that I have moved before and will move again, that I need only myself. That all is well, and that it is for the world and I to struggle with each other perpetually moving forward, leaving, finding, and doing it all over again.
But when I stop to say goodbye to yet another thing, I realize how strong my ties to this place and people are and how deep the roots of this life I have planted myself in are. It is not an easy thing to admit that we have lost. Maybe that is why our goodbyes seek to seal loss with celebration. With a toast. With a smile and hug. We revel in the warmth of farewell, begging time to forget that the past is past, to forget that our presence is a construct of the present, fading into a shadow of a thing that was. Goodbyes are a strange ritual. We do not want to mourn the things that we can see dying. And nothing hastens their death more than this. The cheers we raise to celebrate a time mask the tears that could rush out anytime. We hold back the things that could seal the moment ever so beautifully; set aside pain that is evidence and acknowledgement of something important evaporating, and doing so perhaps never to return.
I–the me that woke up to today–was born, grew up, and went to school in this place. I learned the language and the ways of this people. I do not know if others I will meet think like they do. If they do, at least I know. If they don’t, then that is a relief too: I’ve found some wild ones here. I learned the names of the gods and goddesses, the laws and customs. I learned that we are not a people of laws, customs, and gods, but a people who live in law, customs, and gods. We are a people who have come to believe in a singular divinity, and that divinity is the divinity of law. We believe that we are governed by a single code, and it is this code that we seek to change in our own and in the future of this people. I learned to say we and to mean we in a way that included myself in a foreign thing.
It is this belief that I am confronted with now, as I leave choosing to stay close in ways I did not think would be. I am confronted with a strong resolve to stay. It is because of this that I find it hard to admit that I have really moved, because it might mean that I may not want to again. It is because of this that I find it hard to admit that I will have to move again. That my next home will be temporary, permanently burnt into the list of places I have called home. This is a great trial, and I have to believe that I can face it with faith. But it is a trial that I will not have to face alone. I have people who love me here, and who I hope will love me always. I have people who will remember me when I am gone, and who will not forget. I have friends and family here. I have a good home here. I have a life here.It may feel like I am losing everything, but I have gained so much more.
A huge difference in my life now is that I know what it is to live in peace. It is a great gift, and it has come to me at a time when I need it most.
I have learned that it is possible to be happy and sad at the same time. I have learned that it is possible to cry and laugh at the same time, to live in peace and still have a heart that feels. I have learned that it is possible to trust others and yet not trust myself. I have learned that it is possible to know people, and not to know them, to feel love, and yet not feel loved. I have learned that it is possible to love people, and not to know people. I have learned that it is possible to have all the things I have had, and not have them. There is a new and wonderful thing that has come to me, and that is a new life. I have been given a new life, and I have been given a new heart. I have been given a new beginning, and I have been given a new hope. I have been given a new purpose, and I have been given a new love.
It is because of this that I have a certain peace, certain freedom, that I do not have in my own birthplace. Here, at least, I know my place. That does not mean I like it or want it to remain unchanged. But I know it. I can see a vision of a whole, and in that vision, I can see too myself: lost and wandering, but in a bounded mass. I am not sure if this is a good thing. I am not sure if it is something that will make me happy. I am not sure if it is something that will be a blessing.
You can be happy in the presence of your family, but you can also be happy alone. You can be happy in the presence of your friends, but you can also be happy alone. You can be happy with your husband, but you can also be happy with yourself. It is something that I am learning, and I am learning it here. I have had the good fortune to meet some of the finest people I have ever known, and I have had the good fortune to have made some of the finest friends I have ever known. And it may be so that I am not happy sometimes with these things and people, but I am happy with myself. That, I hope, is enough to take with me as I leave alone.
Everyone is saying that graduating from college is the beginning of life. So what should I do with all these things I have lived? Forget them? I cannot. Life is continuing, and so I cannot celebrate when there is nothing to dance over. I cannot dance over death. Unless that too is a thing we do here. If it is, then I will dance. I will drink. I will leave, but I will remember it all.