Goodbyes and Smiles

Note from Abroad.

In case you haven't had the privilege to spend much time internationally, the world isn't as scary or dangerous as many would have you believe: though I've never visited a country targeted by America. The world is beautiful and filled with kind people who treat others with dignity and respect. This week, people have proven willing to look past offensive words of my government and engage us as the people we are.


The preparations to go were long, and slow. Ready to go and wanting to stay: ambivalence. I was intentional about trying to down shift my brain and remain present through moments where I just wanted to: Run. Run. Away. The desire to escape the inevitable pain.

Our commitment was bookended with ceremony: We sat cross-legged and each member of the community came and tied one string on our outstretched wrist, while someone supported our arm from behind. A ceremony that symbolizes our permanent connection. Community.  And it came, the heartbreak, as I looked into the eyes or averted them only to find trembling fingers and I listened and comprehended the well wishes of each person. Formality yielded to tearful hugs.

One of the beauties of goodbyes is that all those personality conflicts or niggling annoyances are washed off, with many tears, and we remember the love we share. The petty grievances that plague days and try to drive us apart are forgiven and forgotten. How to apply this on the daily?

Monday night, we had a large feast for our final community dinner. We laughed and smiled and ate and ate. It was our first community dinner since before Christmas, so there was a lot of excitement just to have everyone together. As dinner ended, there was a slow softening of the conversation and then the circle constricted around us: I don't want to do this.... Gifts given, hugs exchanged, and then - it ended.

Tuesday mourning was our final goodbye. Another Seh Dang Bye (Going Ceremony). Patients standing and speaking appreciatively of us through tears. If I was ever insecure about the relationships I had, they were dispelled here. I read a long speech in Thai, doing my best to:

  • encourage them to dream, at least a little.
  • invite them educate others about HIV/AIDS - if they are comfortable doing that.
  • ask them continue to take care of their health.
  • thank them for all they have taught me.
  • tell them that although I may never see them again, we are permanently linked in our hearts and I will carry them and their lessons with me to everyone else I meet in this life.

In preparation for leaving, I staged a photo shoot with many members of the community, it was a lot of fun. We passed out a photo or 3 to each person in the community And then, with cheeks hurting from smiling while feeling dehydrated from all the tears, we were off to Indonesia.

Susan makes Indonesia friends while John shoots photographs.

Susan makes Indonesia friends while John shoots photographs.

Today, I am in the middle: homesick for 2 places, while enjoying the beauty life has to offer and appreciating the privilege to seek new experiences and growth. The world is comforting and lovely, and I hope to share more about that in the coming weeks.

 Mt. Bromo - East Java, Indonesia

 Mt. Bromo - East Java, Indonesia

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