Do you ever have the feeling that you’re leaving somewhere to which you’ll never return? You’ve been coasting along in the present, then all of a sudden—the future! Is here! There’s no going back, no matter how much you want to.
You walk out of the apartment and shut the door for the last time. You leave the university campus after years of study. You change jobs and say farewell to the workspace.
That place was so important to you, but now it’s no longer part of your life.
If you ever do go back, it’s never the same. You might feel like a conquering warrior (“I remember when I first arrived here, and look at me now!”) You might feel sad or regretful (“I wish I had…”), or you might have only good memories. Either way, change is the constant, and things are going to be different from now on.
Sometimes you don’t even see it coming. It just hits you all of a sudden: change is ahead! Be aware that this moment is passing soon, and your life will never be the same. Sorry, but you don’t usually have a choice in these matters.
When saying goodbye to a person or place, some think it’s best to leave things unsaid, or walk away without reflection. I’ve learned that this is usually a mistake, at least for me.
I say: hold on to the moment as long as you can. Fight for it if you have to. Get up early and stay up late. Be brave. Choose the raw emotion, even the awkwardness if necessary. If we must go on to something else, let’s at least think about what was and what could have been.
The more intense the feeling, the better. If synchronicity and the feeling of being part of something meaningful comes with sadness, loneliness, and disappointment, so be it. I just know that I don’t want the alternative—mediocrity, routine, the safe and the comfortable.
I often get this feeling when preparing to leave places as I roam the planet, even if I wasn’t that attached to them while I was there. Two years ago I went to Easter Island, thousands of miles out and six hours by air from South America. I enjoyed the visit, but as a tourist destination, it’s a long way to go for a small island with little to do.
I’m not buying a second home in Easter Island, in other words. But then—on the eve of my departure, I looked up at the sky and realized how far I was from everywhere else in the world. I also realized I would likely never return and thought, I’d better remember this.
I joke about collecting countries the way some people collect postcards, but really I’m collecting experiences like these. “Is it worth it to spend so much money on travel?” I’m sometimes asked. I don’t really think of it as paying for travel itself. I’m paying for memories, and when it comes to spending on memories, I say yes. Most definitely. I have no credit limit for memories.
I felt this way while leaving Tbilisi, Georgia a few months ago. It’s truly a beautiful city, and one of the best in Europe, no doubt. The intensity of it all was almost overwhelming to me.
I wasn’t ready to say farewell, but I also knew that staying another day wouldn’t make it any better. I ran ten kilometers the night before I left, trying to process the experience. The next morning, I rode in the mini-bus to Armenia, my next stop, and thought about it further for a good six hours or so.
I had been reading Don Miller’s new book on this trip. Among other things, Don says that meaningful lives do not just happen by accident. They require conflict, risk, striving, and overcoming. A good character in a story has to struggle, and so it is with all of us.
That’s why I think it’s good to embrace the transition points. Don’t go to sleep to dream. You can dream all day long without ever closing your eyes.
After making it to the next hotel, though, I laid down on the bed for a short nap at 4pm. I woke up 10 hours later, still feeling disoriented. I made coffee and did some writing.
Inevitably, I know that we all have to look forward instead of backwards. In the pursuit of growth, it’s better to choose the new than the old. But sometimes it’s also good to hold on to something for a while, and then you can treasure it as the memory it becomes.
Embracing reality may be exhausting, but I can’t imagine the alternative of avoiding it.
Photo by Harrison