Saying goodbye to our home, our family, our continent—it’s been tough. Right, right, we’ve been really excited about moving to Germany–and it’s great to be here having adventures. GREAT. Still, these things are bittersweet: bitter and sweet, not one or the other. My daughter’s heart is still breaking because she misses her friends back home. My son aches for a familiar friend to skateboard with in front of our house. And I’m still mourning the hope of having Thanksgiving with family, of playing golf with my gang, of walking back into my classroom for fall semester at AUM. The list goes on for each of us.
But these lists aren’t ours alone, and they don’t apply only to us itinerant types. You can live in the same state all your life and still experience moments of overwhelming loss: when you walk into a room full of laughing relatives and expect to see your uncle, the consummate storyteller, sitting in the center of the laughter (but he passed away last year and his seat is empty); when you step out into a balmy southern evening and hear the cicadas and tree frogs and have an overwhelming sense that you’ve just stepped out of your grandmother’s house, headed to the backyard with a glass of sweet tea in hand (but she passed away 29 years ago); or even when a Violent Femmes song at high decibel puts you right back into a moshpit of a party with your high school and college friends (but you are driving up I-85 with your kids in the back of a station wagon). Memory is a sticky substance–thank God. And I think that, as much as it sticks to us, we stick to it also.
I’ve been mulling this over all morning after being hit by the sting of a lost “momento” of my life story. It goes like this: Yesterday, we picked up our car from a port on the North Sea. We’d shipped it from the States about two months ago. (Despite paying a hefty–h-e-f-t-y– sum to send it over the Atlantic and through customs, it seems that the shipper inflated a small raft underneath the chassis and paddled it over the ocean himself. This is the only explanation I can offer for the insane timeline. But back to my story–) I had the car inspected before getting German plates put on this morning, and it passed with the stipulation that I scrape the dealer’s decal, indicating a city in North Carolina, off of the back of the car. They had their reasons–logical enough, if uninspiring–but my heart sank a little as I scraped away.
I am a Carolina girl. I may look like a vagabond to you, with a crazy long list of places I’ve called home in recent years: Chicago, DC, Connecticut, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, England, Turkey, Germany. Each of those places has left an indelible mark. I wouldn’t want to lose any of them, but especially not my roots in North Carolina.
However, I lose a little bit of each of them in unexpected moments–like bits of produce that spill from my cart as I bump along a country road, I shed bits here and there–and I hate that. So this morning, I obediently scraped the North Carolina decal from the back hatch of my wagon, mourning that badge of “who I am” that I’d been carrying around for over a decade. I am still a Carolina girl, but I’m no longer emblazoned on the highway–that shouldn’t sting much, but it does. Like everyone I’ve ever known, I like to hold tight to who I am and what (and whom) I’ve loved. And the artifacts of life are dear to me for that reason. But like everyone I’ve ever known, I find life prying little bits of this away from me.
As a postscript, I offer up the words of Elizabeth Bishop’s beautiful poem about loss–in all of its incarnations, big and small. She said it so much better than I can, so I’ll let her words stand:
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.