Kayla McCabe, 129 YinD
Early last week, some of my kids and I went to help our neighbor Pii Ehm water her banana trees. Dragging buckets from the tap to the trees quickly escalated into a Songkran-esque water fight that culminated in five drenched people, a grove of well hydrated trees, and the familiar prick of tears at the corners of my eyes. It’s only become familiar in the past few weeks: moments of intense joy or quiet routine are quickly replaced with preemptive nostalgia and the lingering thought that soon this will all be just another memory. It was frustrating at first. Goodbyes are something I thought I was good at, or at the very least something I was used to. I said goodbye to my friends, family, and hometown to move to college. Four years later I said goodbye to more friends and yet another town when I graduated and moved back home. Every summer, I was a part of cabin groups, trip groups, and staff communities that I inevitably had to say goodbye to once August came around. Two years ago, I said goodbye to everyone and everything I knew and moved across the world with a bunch of strangers. I was prepared for this next goodbye to be hard, both for me and for the people I’ve grown so close to, but I thought I could enjoy my last few months thoroughly and put off dealing with the hard stuff until the very end.
As it turns out, this goodbye is much harder than any of the others I’ve said before. As I’ve slowly started to come to terms with and accept this fact, I became less frustrated by the moments of spontaneous emotion and started to explore deeper exactly why I was feeling this way. The day I finally leave Khong Chai, I will be leaving friends, family, students, and co- workers. These people welcomed me, cared for me, and worked alongside me. My service is a success because of the relationships I built, the lessons I learned, and the knowledge I’ve passed on to my community. While I know I will be back one day, a visit is not the same as living somewhere, and my presence will no longer be viewed as a normal part of this community. So when I say goodbye, it is not only to the people I’ve come to call my family, but to a way of life that I may never encounter again.
Eventually time will pass and we will all find a new routine to our lives. There is comfort in this fact but it also makes this goodbye feel selfish. Travel, graduate school, and my choice of career are all a part of my future but I’m faced with the reality that this is not the same for the vast majority of my community members. Many will never be given the opportunity to see a new country, and my students can tell me with great certainty that even though they really want to be a nurse, they know they will be a farmer or a seller because school is expensive. I’m not just leaving; I’m letting go and understanding that life here will shift to accommodate my absence and I can do nothing more than trust that my presence had an impact somewhere. My students have been taught to dream, to think outside the box, and to believe in themselves. I want to be there to help them learn more and see what they become but I can’t. So, no matter how hard it may be, I’m going to trust they will remember these two years, and accept it’s time to say goodbye.