When I was a girl, I used to collect bunches of dandelions. It didn’t matter to me that everyone else was trying to get rid of them–out, out, damned weed!–I thought they were pretty. Together, they looked like a fist full of sunshine.
More than just a schoolgirl fancy though, I was convinced that a vase full of dandelions would make the basement where I used to play house look more like a house–that little touch took the world of pretend a little bit closer to the world of real. You see at seven, my definition of “home” was simple. And clearly, it included a vase of flowers.
Eventually I grew up and moved abroad and the concept of home got a lot more confusing. Like many of you, I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about what “home” even means. Does it still include a vase of flowers? Is it physical? Geographical? Emotional?
Is home even something with a definition we can all agree on?
The truth is, for all my thinking and examining and writing, I don’t really know.
Here is another truth: for all the time I spend saying goodbye in this revolving door of expatriated life, this year, I’m struggling with how to do it.
After all, I’ve never had to say goodbye during a global pandemic. I’ve never needed to write about moving or expatriating or repatriating, or any kind of patriating during a pandemic.
It is, as much as we may not want it to be, the Corona elephant in the room.
I tried a list of do’s and don’ts: don’t forget to pack masks in your hand luggage, do buy that item you’ve had your eye on, don’t watch the film Contagion, but each time I sat down to write, something felt flat. Just like the world, part of my brain shut down.
I kept trying–and failing–to squeeze everything I wanted to say through some sort of Covid-19 filter.
Until it finally occurred to me that I was wrestling with a false choice. Why did saying goodbye need to be about Covid at all?
Ok, sure, acknowledge the Corona elephant hulking in the corner of the room.
But it shouldn’t be the only thing.
Wherever it is you’re leaving–it was home. Doesn’t matter whether it was for a long time or a short one.
It was home.
Don’t let Covid define your time there.
It might have been a massive factor. It might even be the reason why you’re upping and leaving wherever it is you are. Maybe you didn’t get to watch your graduating child do all the things you were anticipating. Maybe the travel you’d planned was cancelled. Maybe your time was abruptly cut short. Maybe school closures meant maybe you didn’t get to say goodbye. Maybe your plans for a spectacular, glitz-y exit Stage Left didn’t pan out.
But don’t let Covid define the time you spent creating a home or cultivating a community.
When you’re living in the midst of something historical, it’s difficult to get perspective. But one day we’ll be able to look back on the last few months and put it into context.
Where were you during Covid? It will become one of those questions we use to orient ourselves in a time and place.
That still doesn’t mean it has to be the defining message you pack and take with you. Whether you’ve been where you are for one year or fifteen, I’m certain it’s not the most important thing about your time there.
Your experiences, your growth–it’s about so much more than just how you coped–or didn’t– during the great global lockdown of 2020. If you’re active in your school community I know there was volunteering and donating time, skills, and money. There were friendships which I promise you will last a lifetime. There were struggles and triumphs, ups, downs and middles. There was settling in and now, for many of you, settling out.
Wherever you are, wherever you’re leaving, there was a HERE. Wherever you are, wherever you’re leaving, you had an US. You were a part of that, you were part of something.
Don’t let something like a novel corona virus take that away from you.
So, remember the dandelions? As much as I liked those sunshine colored weeds, what I liked even more was when the backyard turned white with fluff. Even now, at nearly 50, I still stop and pluck a stalk now and then. I make a wish and blow, letting my whole breath out. And with each wish, those tiny dandelion seeds fly into the world, finding a new place to settle in, to take root, and to call home.
Sometimes they just need a little help getting there, a breeze or…someone coming along and making a wish.
So here is my wish for you: May you find your own vase of dandelions, your own definition of home. May you find a new community, or if you can’t, create one. May you look back at the time you spent wherever you’re leaving and remember what you had there.
Then fly on the breeze and find it again.
And maybe give it another month before you watch Contagion.
The above is a modified version of a speech I gave to my own community to honor those who are leaving this year. Even though current events make things challenging, it’s important to know this: Your time here mattered. You will be missed.
For more expat musings, check out my book, There’s Someplace Like Home, available in paperback or Kindle format from Amazon.