Here's today's post from my blog,The Sophia Project.
As I write this, I sit in an empty house in Mexico City. The sun is nearly set, the sky dark and hazy with sunset and smog. A car drives by, speaker blasting reggaeton. A dog barks from across the street. And planes fly low overhead, leaving the airport for someplace else. Tomorrow morning I’ll be on one of them heading home again. Back to my normal life.
I came to Mexico City to celebrate my 39th birthday and to reconnect with one of my very best friends and her daughter. Julie is living in Mexico, teaching English at a university. The house we stayed at belongs to her daughter’s grandmother. For four days we’ve had the run of the place, filling it with laughter and general silliness, conversations about men (and boys), and speculations about where we might be in a year, in 10 years, 20 years…
About an hour ago, Julie and her daughter left to go back to their town. I fly out early in the morning. Julie has work and her daughter school, so they needed to head home tonight. The silence in their absence is profound. I hear the car and the music and the dog and the planes. I hear the ringing in my ears and my heart beating. My breath is so very loud, here alone in this house.
When I travel abroad the last night is always the most disorienting. My bags are partially packed already. I’ve said my goodbyes. I’ve spent nearly all my pesos and downloaded all the pictures to my laptop. In 11 hours I’ll be sitting at the airport, coffee in hand, making my way to the departure gate for the flight home. Right now, even though my body is still in Mexico City, my mind and spirit are finding their way back to my apartment in North Carolina, to the responsibilities and friendships that await me there.
As I sit in this profound stillness, alone with the awareness that my body and spirit are not fully joined at this moment, missing my dear friend, I can’t help but think about all the good-byes I’ve said over my lifetime, and all the good-byes left to come. And how, in the end, the most important journeys we make in life must be made alone. No one can accompany us fully as we transition from one place to another, from one stage of life to the next, from this life to whatever lies beyond.
When I was a little kid, I thought about death a lot. I had an uncanny knack for finding wounded and dying animals, and always brought them home in the hopes of nursing them back to health. Baby birds fallen from their nests, a stunning woodpecker inexplicably injured in the road, a turtle who lost its way. The earth beneath our back deck contained the remains of perhaps a dozen animals I tried in vain to save. I grieved them all.
When our neighbor, Jared, died at age 14 from lung cancer, I felt the weight of death in a new way. I was 16 at the time, and his was the first funeral I remember attending. I watched him waste away from chemo, visited him at his bedside when he was at his sickest. I stood terrified and ashamed of my good health while he cracked jokes and asked about school. When he died he had “Let it Be” played at his funeral. I think of him every time I hear that song and wonder how he became so wise to understand the meaning of it at age 14.
As I sit here in Mexico City, in the last hours of a Sunday evening, I am profoundly aware that these good-byes are inevitable and unavoidable. Each of us, every single one, will say good-bye to all the people we love. We will leave each other. It cannot be any other way, and to deny this fact is to miss the point of life.
When I was younger, I used to pretend the good-byes didn’t matter. I trusted the immortality of youth, and assumed I had forever to let myself love the people dearest to me. In forgetting the impermanence of all our tenuous connections, I denied myself the deepest kind of love, the kind that breaks a person wide open to the world. To truly love is to understand loss, to step into the aching reality that in loving each other, the good-byes will be so much more painful.
But to fail to fully love is to live a half-life of artificial friendships and conversations about the weather. I don’t want to talk about the weather anymore. I want to talk about what truly matters, what burns in the heart like wildfire and compels us to take incredible risks in order to live a truly authentic life. I want to brand myself on those I love, and them to me, so we know we belong to each other in this inevitable march into the infinite.
I miss my friend Julie. I miss Jared, my neighbor who died. I miss my grandfather John, who was my role model for grace. I miss all those wounded birds who died in my hands. Tomorrow I will miss Mexico City, vibrant and loud and chaotic and gorgeous. And in sitting with all this sadness, I feel blooming in my heart a tremendous shout of joy that I have been so graced to know these people and to find myself in this place. I can hardly hold it in my body, I am so full of gratitude for all the beauty in my life.
And so I say good-bye to you for now, with the hopes we’ll meet again.