I’m standing at the bar in the lobby of the London Heathrow Ibis Hotel, ordering a sandwich, when the television behind the register flashes in bright red letters: BREAKING NEWS.
I hate that phrase.
Or rather, at this moment, I find myself having a deep and profound hatred of that phrase.
About five hours ago, I was sitting alone at a cafe in London Heathrow’s Terminal 2 (the Queen’s terminal), when out the window I watched as United Airlines flight 96 sped down the runway and lifted off into the air.
It’ll be about another 5-6 hours until I can stop worrying.
On that flight are my wife and dog, heading back to America.
About two weeks ago, I told my wife that there are a number of dominoes that we’ve lined up: her last day at work; the family arriving for graduation; the ceremony itself; sending our dog back to the States; our last flight out.
As of last week, we tipped the first one over.
This is the fourth domino. Only one more to go.
So while I’m sitting here, eating my sandwich and waiting to find out if the two most important things in my life made it safely across the Atlantic while simultaneously refreshing United Airline’s flight tracker, I thought I’d take a minute and write about the temporariness that has been our lives these last five years.
When you move to another country as a student, your life becomes a temporary thing. Right there, in your passport, your life has an expiration date. Ours is 31 December 2015. This is the time within which you must complete your degree, then go home.
So, though you might get a job, make friends, build a life, you know that it isn’t meant to last. In that way, while it’s a great metaphor for life in general, it also teaches you, from early on, not to get too attached to things.
Thus, you spend your time as a marginal person. You know, from the outset, that the things you love will have to be left behind: sitting on a particular bench in the Botanical Gardens, an odd little Mexican restaurant that has felt like home, pretzels at the Christmas Market, drinks outside on summer days, taxi rides in the rain, watching Scotland pass by through a train window, our seats at the Cameo.
That, and the people who come into your life slowly fade away. In fact, it’s amazing how quickly those who were close friends become acquaintances, and then complete strangers. Many of them becoming nothing more than Facebook profiles, like all those you’ve left behind. Some, by their own doing.
What’s more, you start to realise that you’ve become a different person as well. Sure, you’re still an American, and nothing will change that, but you’re also a bit Scottish. As much as you’ve tried to respect your hosts by not mimicking their accents, or colloquialisms, it’s been almost five years, and things have rubbed off on you. This happened when you moved from California to Texas. Will these things change when you go back? Will you find yourself adapting these adaptations to a foreign, yet inherently familiar, context?
As you might expect, within this liminal stage you guard yourself. You protect yourself from getting too close to things, because you know they won’t last. Interestingly, when you look back over the years and think of those fellow Americans who lived here but never really seemed to embrace Scotland, who always talked of the things they missed, of the differences between this place and ‘home,’ and who also seemed to be back in the States every Christmas or summer break, you start to realise this was their own way of protecting themselves as well.
Yet, it also isn’t just those fellow Americans with whom you find yourself empathising toward the end. It’s people here as well. You come to realise that perhaps those with whom your were close all this time, who have turned away from you when you needed them the most, are doing this to protect themselves from the disappointment or sadness of the reality that your relationship was a temporary thing.
The end of something is always difficult.
In fact, all in all it isn’t easy. None of this is easy.
Yet, again, none of this is all that surprising. It isn’t as if you suddenly, one day, realise that your time is up. You have years to prepare.
This is the essence of ‘everything is temporary,’ and again, I think it’s an excellent lesson for life in general. There will always be moments when things feel like they’ve become permanent, when, even against your better judgment, you might find yourself bored with the monotony of life. That doesn’t matter, because things will change.
Which also reminds me that while our time here has been measured by a stamp in our passports, we’ve also had the luxury of knowing when that end will come. Some, if not most, don’t have that. For them, this realisation comes suddenly. Loved ones die, jobs end, love fades.
At least for us, the end has come just when it said it would, and though it is sad for its own reasons, it also means we get to move on into the next temporary stage which, if it’s been anything like this one, should prove equally rewarding.