Leaving the Right Way
Leaving is what I do.
I am the product of incessant galavanting. As a child, through an incongruous blend of necessity and circumstance, I happened to become a wanderer. I lived in many places, and over time it became as happenstance as another’s weekend getaway. There are many things that this type of lifestyle afforded me, and there are many qualities or differences it created that I could harp on. But of the many absurd or unfortunate or even incredible ways it changed me, there is one I think it taught me more than anything: and that was how to leave.
They say that moving is as stressful a process as losing a loved one. I don’t know if I can speak to that, but I can say much of what it can cost you. For those who have lived and grown with your neighbours, classmates, enemies and friends - those who have dealt with the same people throughout their formative years, there’s one thing you have learned that we nomads have not: the perseverance of spirit through imperfect times, a.k.a. the art of bringing conflict to a close.
If there was anything I loved about moving that did not help strength of character, it was my ability to leave. If I was terrified of a bully in school, made the wrong decision that hurt someone, chose poorly and hurt my credibility - whatever it was, I knew that at some point soon I would be traveling to a new home and all those trifles would dissipate as fast as the lingering contrails in the sky. And sure, sometimes it was wonderful. Sometimes there was nothing I could have done to change the outcome and I was allowed what many people don’t get - another chance. But I also never saw the other side of that coin. I can tell you now that one of the essential vitamins of growth is not being able to get away with things. I was never awarded the accolades of backbone and poise by standing up to my tormentors. I never trudged through the painful rehabilitation process of a soiled image. And I never learned really what it meant to be responsible for my actions - to truly live through ‘being sorry’ and maturing through that development.
I am thankful I’m not the type of person who would ever purposefully harm someone. But I’ve also noticed a weakness of spirit that has allowed unfortunate events to occur. Ones that, though indirectly, inevitably do the same thing and lead to another’s pain. I’ve seen that frailty extend to simple matters that simply affect me - that hurt my inner success and future because I haven’t learned to take on responsibility. It has never mattered in this world if you ‘didn’t mean to’. It has only ever mattered that you did it, how much you care and the lengths and bounds you’ll go to remedy it.
I remember being in assembly one day. It was at an international high school, thus surrounded by hundreds of nomadic kids such as myself. A lady came in to speak with us about ‘Leaving the Right Way’. She spoke of what I now speak - that we ‘citizens of the world’ had been warranted the rare fortune of leaving our troubles behind - a cursed knowledge and developed appreciation of running away. She said that there was nothing as important to finishing one’s life chapter as leaving it honourably - as good as humanly possible, or hell - even better than you found it. For whatever we allow to remain unresolved will forever be an open wound, no matter how small, that we may never get the chance to close.
I can attest to her words. In each home I have left behind, there has always been a matter I didn’t repair correctly. I’ve let those I cared about move on with their lives as I ran to become a faraway dream. After all this time I now know that she was right - that those wounds can be pervasive, toxic. They pull at your heartstrings, compel you to feel ashamed, make you feel incomplete. They make you hear sadder songs in your head and tug at your pride when you try to tell yourself that you are something wonderful, that you are kind, that you are strong. They leave a mark on your memories of that soul, that place, and never allow you to truly remember the times you had in peace. They hold you back from the person you strive to be and throw doubt deep into your pockets. They mask you, and stunt your ability to change for the better.
It is true what they say - that you can never go home. It won’t remain where you left it and you can’t ever return to the life that once was. Still, I left a home recently that I doubtlessly loved. And it was the closest I’ve been yet to a perfect departure. There are still small things I’d like to fix and do better, but I almost did it right. I left that wonderful city for a town that has so far been a disaster - yet even still I don’t want to turn back. To put it into context, I’ve wanted to return to every damned place I’ve ever lived. Even the terrible ones. Being on the flip side of this revelation, it is now clear that my pining for the hearths and hills of my past had never been there because I missed it. No, my wanting was for nothing more than absolution. Indeed, the places I had left in greater turmoil were the same ones I yearned to see most. For without one’s own grant of atonement you can never truly let anything go. Now instead of an oppressive net that drags and threatens to sink me, I finally permitted myself a gift: a memory of the most beautiful island in my life that I can leave in peace. One I may never return to, at least in the way that it was, but whose impression brings a smile to my face every time I see it. And that, is winning.
This truth is as unlimited as there are bounds, and extends to each and every life that this world carries. Each human being leaves something or someone behind, and we all have the opportunity - the duty to ourselves - to leave those chapters as best we can. We lose our deepest loves, we change professions, we run off to college and leave our families behind. We pass a circumstance on our stroll and neglect to stop and help it, speak to it, laugh with it. Every turn you make, you leave something behind. And while my steps have been more visible, while the scenery has changed substantially and I do not pass the souls of my second-chances on my afternoon walks - those faces still haunt me and the losses are ever-present. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves for the past. The losses are there as reminders, not weights. But we can change our futures. I’ve had very few second-chances, and for those I couldn’t be more grateful. But I’ve had so many beautiful moments tragically slip through my fingers. What I have learned is only what we all forget on a daily basis: Leave Things the Right Way. There is nothing I have seen that can do greater good than that simple fact, and it is in this where we find our bountiful worth.