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Note #110: Leaving (2016.12.29)

Well, here we are. All our bags are packed; we’re ready to go. It is approaching midnight, and we have a matter of hours left in Korea, at least until the end of next year. Actually, our flight was delayed due to maintenance issues, so we have two hours more than we thought we would, but still—this time tomorrow, we will be well on our way to New York.

This morning we woke up to the first real snow of the winter. It wasn’t much—maybe a centimeter—but it was enough to cover the ground, at least. When I walked to school, the crisp, pale blue sky was littered with tufts of cloud dyed sherbet orange by a sun that had yet to rise up over the mountains. It seemed like the first truly clear sky I had seen in quite some time, almost as if the weather had decided to give us one beautiful day before we left.

I know that I have a lot to look forward to next year, but somehow I can’t help but think of endings now, rather than beginnings. On Tuesday we said goodbye to our car, which we had driven for thirteen years. I had no emotional attachment to it; it was a means of transportation to convey us from one point to another when public transportation was less than ideal. It did serve us well for over a decade, though, and gave us few major problems, so I am thankful for that.

As I left my office this afternoon for the last time, I paused at the door and looked around to make sure I had taken care of everything that needed taking care of. In that moment I was struck by a flashback to a similar moment many years ago. I was standing in the kitchen of my parents’ house, getting ready to leave the US for Korea. My father, from whom I inherited whatever desire for punctuality I might have, was eager to head out to the airport. “Come on,” he said. “We’ve got to get going.”

But I stopped. “Wait. Just... give me a moment.” I looked around at the kitchen one last time, taking everything in. I had no idea what lay ahead of me, but somehow I knew that this was one of those “last moments” that the road of life is strewn with. Of course, I have since sat in that very same kitchen many times, and I will soon sit in that kitchen again. But it was never the same after I left, and it won’t be the same now. When Thomas Wolfe said that you can’t go home again, that is what he meant: You can always go back to the place that you once called home, but because you’ve changed it won’t be what it used to be.

Of course, this leaving is only going to be for a year. The older I get, the shorter a year seems, and I know that this one will be over before I know it, like so many before. But I wonder how I will have changed when it comes time to return home. The idea of spending a year in the US is, to be perfectly honest, somewhat daunting right now. People keep telling me what a great time I am going to have, and I do indeed expect to have a rewarding time... but right now all I can feel is the melancholy of leaving. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that didn’t want to go.

But go we will, and adventures we will have. I’m looking forward to seeing family and friends, and to making new friends along the way. I’m looking forward to seeing what has become of the country I left behind, since brief visits aren’t really enough to give me a proper feel of things. I’m looking forward to being able to devote time to research and other projects that I have been wanting to undertake. And, at the end of it all, I will look forward to coming back home and bringing all of those experiences with me to share with everyone here.

Send me your thoughts.

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