Friday, May 16, 2008

Another suitcase in another hall

The silent slippery sliding sand of time begins with the first, "Hello". Somewhere someone watches us and their only job is to sit in a cold and windowless room turning the sand timers, some big, others tiny, that tell how long we will enjoy the company, or detest the presence, of another person. Some timers are so ponderously large, so slow running that their sand will flow for a lifetime. Others are so miniscule, so fleet, that their sand runs out in the time it takes strangers to pass in the night.

One of the hardest things to do is to say goodbye to someone you care about. There are million dollar card industries which specialize in helping tongue-tied individuals find just the right words, whether they be flowery and beautiful or coming from dogs wearing silly hats and riding red tricycles or, my fathers favorite, thought bubbles of obscenely obese and heavily wrinkled old women in skimpy bikinis, to say farewell. How many movies involve long, drawn out and often tearful goodbye’s? Look at The Lord of the Rings. Adventure. Killing. Elves. Ghosts. Goblins. And then they cap off this epic trilogy with an hour of goodbyes. Bilbo’s mother’s aunt’s secretary makes an appearance just to make sure there is enough closure for even the most devout Tolkein fans.

The cards, the movies, the singing quartet that shows up at your office to embarrass you with an acapella version of Boyz 2 Men "It's so hard to say goodbye" are all testaments to people's inability to gracefully allow the sands of time to run their course. We want to hold on to those we care about. We hold on to relationships even after that friend has boarded the hovercraft or the lover has entered the grave. We stand on the front porch and wave long after the car has turned the corner before reluctantly turning back to the house that will feel like it's missing something we just can't put our finger on.

The past two years of my life are a testament to the idea that the human spirit can endure anything. If saying goodbye is one of the hardest things a person can do, which I've just spent the past three paragraphs definitively proving to be the case, then Freetown has to be one of the hardest places on Earth to live. Two years ago I said goodbye to everyone from college, everyone from my home town, to everyone of my relatives, to my family, to my co-workers, to the garbage man, Bill, who did an extra good job of making sure to put the can back in it's correct spot instead of letting it roll into the road where a stray SUV could run over it. I said goodbye so that I could go on a new life adventure. Teaching in the dark continent. Braving what few others would consider rational. Teaching a pack of unruly five year olds. Madness. But I came. And I thought I was done saying goodbye for a few years.

Few people in the history of the world have been as wrong as I was in making that assumption. Alexander thinking he could take over Russia was a better assumption. Thinking the teachers couldn't see when we stuck earphones up our jacket sleeves to listen to music in class was more correct than my thoughts on leaving goodbyes behind. I have met a plethora of incredible people here in Sierra Leone. People from all corners of this round world. And making friends here is like nowhere else I've ever been. Here in Freetown if you see a person more than once and talk to them on both occasions then they are probably thought of as a friend. Because the nature of the beast is so transient the natural thing to do is make friends in a hurry. Which is great in that meeting people is never a problem and it is hard to feel lonely here. But the sands of time run faster here than anywhere I've ever lived. And so many of that plethora has left me waving goodbye that it is impossible to count.

In fact the problem has gotten so out of hand that I've given serious consideration to spending my evenings at the hovercraft terminal. I could go each night, watch excruciatingly boring CNN reports about market crashes or idiotic multi-millionaire athletes messing up their lives because they're too dumb to realize they're living the dream life, and wait. And after my hours of waiting, after re-reading the same article about when it's appropriate to wear white shoes or which nose trimmer works best underwater, I will get my chance to say goodbye. As people tote their overstuffed bags I will be there waving, with a goofy smile, never missing a chance for closure. Because in Freetown, if you aren't on your toes, someone will leave and you'll miss your chance to say goodbye. If you don't pay attention the sands will slide down until the last grain drops and it's often so quiet that you don't realize that something is missing till long after the time is up.

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