In Denmark, we look forward to the summer. We really do. We endure six hour days in December and the sort of vitamin D deficiency that could only be properly cured by eating a whole raw seal. So we watch anxiously for the first spring rays. And occasionally the sun does actually appear. I suspect the locals have some secret spring ritual that they perform in the quiet of their living rooms, one involving candles, animal sacrifice and possibly some special dance. I’ve never asked. I don’t really want to know. If there is such a ritual, it only seems to work for one year out of three, so the Danes need to up their game. It worked last year so this year should mean the deluge. Unless global warming kicks in to help us out. There’s always a silver lining.
And the one thing I always forget, while eagerly counting the days until May and the brief feeling of thawing hands and feet, is that for expats, summer means all-change. Many of us have children so the summer holiday is the natural time to move on and settle into a new location before school starts. Looking back, I can’t remember a summer over the past two decades that has not been punctuated with the word goodbye. Quite frankly, I have grown to hate it. Promises of keeping in touch don’t often materialise, at least in the long term, and that’s really how it should be. No one can fully establish themselves in a new life if they are always looking back to the old one.
Of course we don’t let go all at once. We glance over our shoulders for a while at what we have left behind us. We check that the old life didn’t suddenly get more fun just as we left. We make sure we haven’t been entirely and instantly forgotten in the influx of new and possibly more exciting people into what was our old life and now is their new one. But time intervenes and the new life becomes the real one and the old life becomes a ghost. It has to, or we could never live the life we do.
So the word goodbye is one I now avoid completely. I used to use it dutifully and emotionally every summer as old friends left and at the end of each assignment, as I was the one to leave. And the word weighed more heavily every year. Eventually, I simply quit. I refused to say the word at all, or even think it. After all, I reasoned, people emerge from the woodwork all the time and in the most unexpected places. One friend who left me in Denmark and went to England, wrote to me when I had moved to Australia and said they were coming to live near us in Canberra. Our goodbye in Denmark had hardly been necessary.
Really, though, I stopped saying goodbye because it’s a painful word and associated with difficult emotions. Nowadays I duck the farewell parties, try not to think about any casual school gate conversations possibly being the last ones and generally make myself scarce as summer approaches. Perhaps we all have only so many goodbyes in us and I am reaching my limit. Perhaps this means I am also coming to the end of my capacity to live this kind of life. I have roots in so many places and in none.
It’s a great life, travelling the world, seeing new places, experiencing new cultures. It’s a privilege and generally one for which I am grateful. The benefits for me have always outweighed the negatives, just as the summer brings brings more fun than pain. I am, however, beginning to look forward to the time when the first spring days mean nothing more than a summer to look forward to and then a winter and another summer, all in the same place and with the same people. I’m not quite ready yet but that time is quickly coming, a time when summer will once again become the easiest word.