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 which 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 they perform in the quiet of their living rooms, 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.
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 which 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 become more fun just as we left. We make sure that 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 now one I avoid completely. I used it dutifully and emotionally each summer as old friends left. I used it 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 in Australia to say they were coming to live near us in Canberra. Our painful goodbye in Denmark had hardly been necessary.
I mostly stopped saying goodbye because it is a painful word and associated with difficult emotions. Nowadays, I duck the farewell parties, try not to think that any casual school gate conversation may possibly be the last and generally make myself scarce as summer approaches. Possibly we all have only so many goodbyes in us and I am reaching my limit. Perhaps this also means I am coming to the end of my capacity to live this kind of life. I have roots now 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 always 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 am not yet quite ready for that but the time is quickly coming, a time when summer will once again become the easiest word.