Today is a bittersweet time. We are ending our stay in Mindanao, saying goodbye to the people whom we have gotten to know and who have been such wonderful hosts during our stay. We had a lovely day yesterday saying our thank-yous and farewells over a generous lunch, and again over dinner at a mountaintop restaurant with a night view overlooking Davao City.
Yet it is still three days before we will be home. It is a strange limbo, a drawn-out departure. We have left some people, but others are still with us; we will say goodbye again in Manila as we leave our professor behind to see his family, and then to one of our members who will be parting ways with us in Tokyo, and then finally to each other in Minneapolis. Some of us will see each other again soon; others we might not meet in person again.
I have also been on this trip with the assumption that I will be immediately flying out to Arizona, likely without a chance to stop at home during the layover. However, I’ve received word that my trial is all but dismissed; all the lawyers are missing is the judge’s signature on the paperwork. So while I thought I still had a week and a half to journey, I suddenly am facing the very real possibility—indeed, the reality—that my travels will end on Tuesday at the same time as my companions’ do. While I am of course happy that my case has been dismissed (the desired outcome), and I am happy that I will get to see my friends and family sooner than expected, I am disappointed that I will not be seeing my beloved Love People at this time. A journey I had been spiritually preparing myself for since my arrest in July has suddenly been truncated. I am happy. I am sad. I rejoice. I mourn. The feelings are not mutually exclusive; it is a both-and situation.
During our last devotions together yesterday, I told our group that I had more trouble connecting with this immersion trip than the previous trips I have been on. As we came closer to our departure, I was not feeling particularly emotional about the prospect of saying goodbye. Yet when it was my turn to speak, my heart lurched, and I realized that this place and these people had worked their way in while I wasn’t looking. I finally saw that this trip was not about me, my needs, my change; this trip was about the people I was with. It was not my purpose, this time, to be changed as radically as I have been on other trips; my purpose was to be present with these people, and to be changed gently, subtly, almost unnoticeably.
So I sit on the steps of the place that has been home for the past five days, feeling the moist warm air moving over my skin, listening to the chickens in the yard, letting the voices of my companions wash over me in a soft background murmur, and I say goodbye. I know that you, dear reader, have yet to hear of my activities and reflections; it is a bit backwards to hear of my loss before you understand what it is that I gained. And I know that I still have three days with most of these people. But this is the beginning of the end, and I am savoring the bittersweet tang of the moment. In embracing the impermanence, I am reveling in the beauty.
I’ll close with my favorite poet, Mary Oliver: “To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: To love what is mortal, to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it, and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”