In the past two years, I’ve said goodbye more times than I care to remember. Some of those goodbyes have been in person with many tearful and emotional promises to stay in touch; some of them have simply been a result of life and growing up; some have happened alone in the darkened comfort of my bedroom while others have happened more publicly and with spectators. All of them have been people I’ve loved in one way or another; all of them have been people who have touched my life and my heart; all of them have been painful and sad goodbyes. Not once has it been a relief to end a relationship regardless of the situation or hurt that’s been experienced or unpleasantries exchanged.
I’ve said more goodbyes than I thought possible and, while many of them have ended in promises to remain friends always, I’m old enough, cynical enough, well-travelled enough and – dare I say it – wise enough to understand that the seemingly unbreakable ties that bind us to one another at that point in our lives become far more breakable with distance, the passing of days, weeks, months and years, and simply growing up. In a foreign country such as Korea, those strong bonds are formed even more quickly creating an even stronger illusion of eternity – an illusion that can make the inevitable goodbyes seem that much more painful and the willingness to open one’s heart to newcomers decreases just a little more with each exiting figure.
February is, without a doubt, the worst month of my years in Korea. Each year, as it draws nearer, you can almost hear the collective inhalations that signal how we all simply hold our breath and wait to see what life has in store for us. It’s the time when co-teachers you’ve come to love and rely on may be transferred to another school, when the uncertainty of the new school year makes every day at work feel like you’re walking on nails without the appropriate mental or emotional preparation, when other foreign teachers may be moving on with their lives outside of Korea, when beloved students whom you’ve started to treat like younger siblings graduate and move on with their lives, when routines change and, every once in a while, when that extra special person who has managed to creep into your heart with breathless and expert navigation of all the high tech emotional security systems you’ve installed around it is told that it’s time to move on too “just because”.
Saying goodbye to someone when things have gone horribly wrong is a little easier to bear than saying goodbye to something good for no reason other than that you’ve run out of time. It’s hard to accept that something so good for you is being taken away simply because the powers-that-be, who don’t know you, decide it’s necessary to make changes in other people’s lives. Death, personal choices, fights…all of these provide some logical end to a relationship despite the similarity of pain; they’re all escorted by some inevitable form of closure and conviction. Obligatory transfers for work are like children in a nasty divorce: at least one person always suffers from a separation in which they have no voice. They carry no logical or rational end – they simply are. And, while those seemingly unbreakable ties that have bound you so tightly to one another for any period of time may seem strong enough to weather any challenge the transfer guarantees by sheer distance, they do, sadly, weather and weaken as time takes its toll. In the end, some silently mourn the death of the relationship while others don’t even realise it may have already ended long before that.
John Lennon famously said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” With each passing year of my life, I gain a slighter better understanding of just how accurate this is. As another February approaches, accompanied by the inevitable goodbyes that this season brings, all that can be done once more is to embrace the suck that is this annual period and remember to exhale as we all “wait-and-see” what the year ahead holds for us. I guess there’s a reason that in the northern hemisphere, March is the beginning of spring and brings with it renewed optimism, new opportunities, new relationships, and even acceptance and closure for the relationships with those we may never again see but who will always hold a very special place in our hearts.