Friday, September 7, 2012

Call me vegan-cheesy, but this one’s about the Ethereal Goodbye Contract

Sunset behind the clouds in Labro. Photo credit: Moi.
It’s an unintentional agreement that we make from the moment our parents or guardians drop us off at pre-school or kindergarten. It’s the ethereal contract that we sign in invisible ink while we’re inebriated by infantile innocence, a naïveté that we cannot help, so we cannot defend ourselves from this accord bearing our signature until the day we move on and subject others to the agreements they unwittingly made aeons ago.

Goodbyes: when we have to say them, it’s tempting to claim that we never signed up for them. But, alas, unbeknownst to us, we did, from our first engagements with other individuals. Goodbyes are part of every interaction we have. From the first day that we step into a classroom, however, we’re not conscious of the fact that, come the end of the school year, we’ll be saying goodbye to each other. Each academic year is a finite period demarcated by the end of summer (which entails its own farewells) and the beginning of the following summer. Even as our academic years pass by and our experience with farewells increases, we greet the beginning of September as amnesiacs, ready to start the cycle again with a clean slate. September carries only the delight of seeing one’s friends again and nary a thought as to the salutations that’ll be uttered ten months in the future (then again, if you were like many high schoolers—myself included—September was characterized only by the intense longing to be taking your leave of the individuals who you could not stand or who made your life particularly miserable).

Goodbyes… They are an inherent part of life in that everything is always in flux; everything changes. We, as humans, grow attached to people and to things, and even the most trained amongst us with regards to learning how to let go laments the departures, the evolutions, the metamorphoses of the aspects of our lives to which we hold on so dearly. Goodbyes are no exception, yet even as some may argue that saying goodbye to people of whom we have grown fond becomes easier as the years pass, it doesn’t mean that goodbyes stop being painful; they simply become easier to deal with once the initial pain subsides.

Forgive me for the lengthy preamble; my goal in talking about the Ethereal Goodbye Contract was to illuminate the funny trickery of brackets of time: in school, you have months and months and sometimes years and years ahead of you with the same people surrounding you, so the idea of ever leaving them doesn’t faze you, or it doesn’t even occur to you. As adults, departures and arrivals are part of monthly and yearly lives: you move out, friends move away, siblings go away to school, colleagues get new jobs, loved ones pass away, couples break up. Everything is in flux; the world is not static; we are but elements in the sea of life, which has been flowing since the beginning of time and will continue to flow long after our passing, when we are but particles in the soil, if that. As adults, we are fully aware of this entity called Time, but we may not fully engage in its obligations and limitations until, well, Time is running out.

This summer was different: I and the other artists who came here for the 90-day art-monastic summer retreat were knowledgeable, with each passing day, of the limit imposed by the contract we had literally signed. We knew our obligations outlined by this finite time and space, and we knew the boundaries imposed by it. And the novelty of this programme was that it was finite: 90 days—three months. We expected no more and no less. Yet, despite our knowledge and experience with farewells (most of us here have lived a quarter of a century or more), we jumped in. And, of course, it was worth it; it will always be worth it. It would be outrageous to not engage in emotional and professional risks for fear that one would eventually have to say goodbye. One might as well not pull the drapes from the window to display the rising sun, if embracing eternal night is preferable to saying goodbye to another day.

We all chose to jump in. And, one by one, a new friend has left and a void remained in the spot once occupied by this person in our community. The mark left by each person is indelible, whether he or she left a t-shirt behind, a bag of granola, or simply a memory or lesson; none of us remains unscathed, for better or for worse, by the presence of another person in this community. The sea continues to flow, and we are aware of the absence of the waves that the departed person once caused when they swam with us.

Two days ago, I allowed myself to feel the pain of the fresh departure of one of my friends here. I excused myself to cry in private, just for a moment, while everyone was making pizza (duuuuuuude). 

Okay, this pizza is from a different night. The pizza we made on this particular night was so scrumptious that we did not dare stop to photograph the individual pies but, instead, rushed straight to acquainting them with our faces.

Liz came to join me, as she, too, was mourning this friend’s departure. We embraced as my shoulders continued to shake, and Betsy joined a few moments later. What Liz said next struck me, tickling my linguistic nerdity (even in the most vulnerable of moments, theres always room to geek out on language. Try me):

A few days prior, knowing the farewells that awaited us, I taught our community, comprised entirely of Americans, how to say “I miss you” in Italian. The verb is mancare, to miss or to lack, to be missing or to be lacking. In a distinct manner from that of English, however, when one expresses that one is missing another person, the verb is conjugated according to the person or object missed; thus, Mi manchi literally translates to “You are missing from me.” If you wanted to say, “We miss him/her,” you would say, Ci manca (literally, “He is missing from us”). All the other permutations aside, the concept is clear: English favours the person who lacks another, while Italian, along with other languages like French, favours the individual who is absent.

This is where Liz’s assertion comes in. In perfect sombre lucidity, she professed how Italian captures the sentiment of loss, of missing, of lacking in way that English fails: in Italian, the expression of missing denotes a part missing from a whole—or, as Liz so eloquently and poetically put it, “a hole in the whole.” When someone is missing from us, it means that they were once part of us, or part of the reality in which we participated. In their absence, the whole that they helped create now bears a hole. And we are grievously conscious of it.

But the hole they have left is beautiful and beneficial in this lesson, this perennial adventure that is the remnant of this Ethereal Goodbye Contract. The pain that will slowly, or even quickly, evaporate or simply remain a mist of which we are sometimes aware serves as a reminder of the indelible nature of this person’s impact on us and on our lives. The pain will often be replaced by the memories of this person and the experiences shared. This delicate ache is the reminder that we were blessed to be touched by this person’s presence; it is a reminder that we have been changed.


... love ...

... and more love!

With three months left of this beauteous, inspiring, fulfilling, creative, and mindful journey, I am conscious of change. I will be saying more goodbyes in the coming days, and I will even be visited by my mum, to whom I said goodbye four months ago, and to whom I will take my leave again when she returns to Montreal and I will stay here for another two and a half months. The final days of summer are passing more rapidly than our recognizing the changing colours of the leaves. New cycles are ever beginning, fading, and ending, only to restart again. We’ll say more farewells, and it’ll be worth it. Change is always worth it; see for yourself

And, cripes, with Facebook and Skype (Im a poet and I didn’t even know it!), are we ever truly saying permanent goodbyes? I’ve been to Italy my fair share of times, but it turns out that I also have my fair share of loved ones in California whose abodes and neighbourhoods I have yet to discover...

Source: Elephant Journal

Until next time (I’m saying ’bye, but you know that I’ll be back),

Vegan in the Italian Boonies

P.S. Oh! Oh! Guys! Look! It was my birthday on August 17 and this is the cake that my darling friend, Emma, made me! Thank you, Emma! Mi manchi!

Vanilla cake with chocolate-coconut fondant topped with almond-coconut-cracker crumble, anyone?