It will soon be a full decade since I’ve decided to leave my hometown and stepped onto the plane that would take me away from family, friends, and all the people I’ve known and came to know, often putting me in touch with people and places I could never have dreamt of — neither as dreams, nor as nightmares. Even though I probably could have done without some of the latter, I profess no regrets. Life is a composite of the good and the bad and it would be a pointless endeavour any other way.
Since then, I’ve left nearly everyone I’ve ever met — I’ve left family, friends, girlfriends, situations, places, and just about everything else, if there is anything else. Some of it was easy and welcome, some of it painful and awash with regret — especially when it comes to family. Leaving them always felt like an abandonment on my part, even though I knew we’d always be there for one another, wherever there might be. While that may not be the case for everyone, I can’t be anything but grateful that it is the case for me.
Leaving has since become an intricate part of my life. It’s the only modus operandi I’ve known for a long time now — it’s what I, in a way, do. I have grown accustomed to raising the anchor and changing my position until I find shores to my liking and delight. Because of this I was able to experience wildly different peoples and cultures and have been sensible enough to let all that humanity change me. I’m hardly the same man I once was and it feels good to write that. No one has missed the point more than the person who had never allowed any change. I do not leave to abandon, nor to escape, but rather to give something new a go before returning, much like a ship would leave and return. It must leave in order to return, or else it will rot while being “safe” in the harbor.
There was a time when all I knew was one place and one kind of people and, having had the chance to learn much about other places and other kinds of people, I know in my heart I would not want to go back to that single point of view. Learning how to leave and return gracefully allowed me to assume many points of view and that is what helped me cope with my own humanity, and that of others. Until I felt vulnerable in a foreign place, I did not truly understand those who are vulnerable and foreign in my backyard.
Over the years I’ve left many people too — some only physically and some thoroughly. Sometimes the process was slow, full of doubt and deliberation on both sides, like slow-cooked pork, so that the whole relationship would eventually fall apart at the slightest of touches. Some disappeared without a trace, almost as an afterthought. This difference between protracted and sudden endings is often on my mind.
If I choose to leave, how to do it best?
I once thought that the best way to leave would resemble a clean, surgical incision — a quick severance of the relationship that puts all sides into a temporary shock that quickly subsides before the demands of everyday life. I still hold that belief albeit to a lesser degree. There’s leaving and then there’s leaving — not everything can, nor should be done quickly and rashly. When wearing a band-aid for a few days it’s best to remove it fast and endure the sharp burst of pain, but when your chest has been pried open and your heart is out for everyone to see, then don’t do anything quickly. Endure the slow pain and nuisance of waiting for the stitches to fall out on their own because if you try to rip them out like you would a band-aid — you very well may die.
Remember, though, that most of the times you will, in fact, not die and that prolonging the inevitable is stealing time from your life. If you must leave, try to leave quickly. Don’t turn back, and don’t cling to memories for they always seem like the “good old times” in retrospect.
I am guilty of leaving slowly when I should have done it quickly, and vice versa, but the latter is a rare occurrence and the former a familiar sight — when I’d try to hold on to something for such a long time that it would sag and break like a chewing gum stretched beyond its limit.
If you must leave, leave quickly and get on with it.
The other side of leaving is being left, or the ego-shattering realization that there are people who can do without me. It took a long time for me to understand that someone leaving me, in whatever sense, is a choice they’ve made, not a personal insult, and that I should let them go as gracefully as I’d expect other people to let me go. As gracefully as waves fall back from the sea’s shore.
They’ll come back, or they won’t. Either way, it’s up to them.
At times, I did not leave — I escaped, though I had only occasionally admitted that to myself, let alone to anyone else. Sometimes I left to face the world and grow, but some other times I left to escape the world, deny it’s realities, and attempt to hold on to a version of the story that has lost any semblance of reality. There were times when I chose to leave something I thought a lost cause only to realize later that I had escaped because the lessons contained in those causes I was afraid to acknowledge. When friends pointed out my unwillingness to share emotion, I thought them overly emotional. When someone had pointed out my skewed competitiveness, I thought them wimps.
Their remarks had later on proved to be true and a clear sign that I did not leave those relationships — I ran away. I escaped so that I would not have to doubt my perspective of the world. But the escape, unlike a carefully considered leaving, gives no peace because our inner demons follow wherever we go. Only understanding and accepting our demons ever helps. Escaping offers no more than a fleeting, illusory sense of freedom.
Speaking of friends who are brave enough to point out uncomfortable truths, I’m glad to have (eventually) had the good sense of keeping a few around me. Friends who are different enough to learn from and close enough to rely on when the storms come and either one of us discovers that the ship of life is not as watertight as we had thought it to be. In a life of constant change, these people are the roots which ground and nourish me, without putting shackles on my spirit. They are peppered all over the world, but they support me as surely as any arm across the shoulder would.
Leaving is a necessary part of life but our nervous wanting to have everything without ever having to make any choices makes us hesitant. This is our mistake, because we can have and do anything but we cannot have and do everything. We have to make the choice and leave some people, some places, and some situations — so that we might arrive at others. It’s equally unfitting for a human being to always be surrounded by the well-known as it is to always plunge into the unknown.
We need both and we need rest from both.
By the time you reach the end of this essay, you’ll likely have thought of a few times when you should have left — better, or sooner, or maybe not at all — I know I have. I can’t change any of that, nor would I want to because a life of no mistakes is no a life at all. We can only ever try to do a little better the next time around, so on that note I leave you with this:
Think carefully before you leave, then do it.
Leave swiftly and get on with your life. Let past be past and have no regret about your yesterday because it will suffocate your tomorrow.
Learn to be left gracefully.
Clutching onto someone who chose to leave you is like frantically waving your arms in the thin air hoping to fly — it only works in cartoons. Let them go gracefully, because how you take it speaks more about you than their leaving does about them.
Nourish a few lasting friendships.
Take great care of those few relationships that seem unaffected by the distances and the passage of time — your best friends, your soulmates. They’re the salt of life, if you will, because even the most wondrous experiences will leave a bland, ashen aftertaste if there’s no one to share them with.
And don’t escape, if you can help it.