June has become the most intense month of our calendar in recent years, and not just because we now have two school-age children, and a pile-up of end-of-term events.
It’s visible from a distance, back in February, when the murmurs start. Do you know anything? It’s your last year isn’t it? Any word on a destination?
By early spring people start to hear whether they might be leaving, and where they might be going. But at that time summer still seems a long way off. There’s excitement and anticipation as news trickles in, without yet having to face the logistics to come.
Then there’s Spring holidays, May bank holiday weekends, visitors may come and go, life happens, and all of a sudden, there it is: you’re facing down June. And just when you thought there were still ‘a few weeks’ until holidays and departures begin, suddenly it’s only four weeks to go. And perhaps you’ll have a teacher’s newsletter oh-so-helpfully giving you the nice round figure of ‘only 18 days of school left!’
That’s when mild panic might set in, because that may be 20 work or child-free days on paper, but subtract the days for school concerts, sports days, teacher appreciation and volunteering for the end-of-year disco. Subtract the coffee mornings that you absolutely can’t miss because it’s maybe one of the last-ever chances you’ll get to spend time with a friend. Subtract the appointments you realise you really should fit in before the weeks of family time.
Add in the leaving parties and dinners and barbecues. In amongst all that, fit in planning your travel for the summer, whether it’s a family holiday, reunions with old friends, or touching base with all the different branches of the extended family back home. If you’re freelancing, or working from home, there’s work to finish up, projects to complete.
Then, most of all, make sure there’s space for the goodbyes: not just fitting in the last coffee or dinner in the calendar, but the mental and emotional space to say a good goodbye. In the midst of the planning and the headlong rush to the impending end-of-the-month deadline, you realise you have to take care of the moment, to make it count, to pay tribute to the relationship and the times spent together.
(And I write all this in the mindset this year of a ‘stayer’. My ‘leaver’ friends must layer in planning and executing a country move.)
At this time of year I often observe expats, in real life and in various online forums, expressing how distraught they are to say goodbye to a special friend who’s moving on, wondering aloud how they’re going to manage without them, shedding tears with heaving sobs.
I used to wonder why I didn’t feel such strong emotions myself at the prospect of a goodbye. But I do often find myself welling up at a leaving dinner or pot-luck, listening to, or giving, the speeches of thanks or tribute. It’s partly a reaction to the intensity of the emotion in the room, a recognition of how strongly people are feeling. I think that’s often where these tears come from – an impulse to share the moment and the emotions with others.
But for me, I’ve realised, the happy tears also come in recognition of everything that has happened up to that moment, and made that moment matter – and here is where life on the move offers a truly unique opportunity.
If we’d stayed at home over the last ten years, all other things being equal, I probably wouldn’t believe that it had been x number of years since I saw a former colleague, and then, wouldn’t think too much of it, if we lived in the same town and could meet for coffee ‘sometime soon’. I might have lost track of when we bought our house, or when a friend moved to another city.
But when you or the people around you move every two or three years, it’s not possible to lose track, because the passage of time is regularly marked and remarked upon. We have an ongoing series of threshold moments. I can map out the last ten years according to where I lived, the community I was a part of there, and the impact the place had on me. You can’t move from one country to another without looking back, and appreciating how far you’ve come.
The emotion I do feel at those threshold moments, at those goodbyes, is never despair for geographical separation. It’s joy for what has been, and joy for having a moment set aside to savour it, to pay tribute to how someone has been important over recent years.
There’s gratitude too, that I am able to have that moment in which to pause and reflect on the intensity of an expat friendship, and that the friendship will in most cases continue across continents.
It’s the knowledge that what has been, will be again, for the other person and for me, with new people. And the knowledge that there is room for those new people alongside what is already there.
It’s gratitude for the space to look back on the chapter I’ve just lived, they chapter they’ve lived, and the space to at least start to tell that story, to trace the narrative that’s taken place. It’s the exhilarating anticipation of the next chapter, the next scene in my story or theirs.
Expat life gives us these threshold moments to recognise our stories, to trace the plot developments, to develop our characters and our relationships in a way that we can tangibly measure, move by move, chapter by chapter.
In the anthology Life on the Move, edited by Lisa Webb, I’ve written about one of my own memorable threshold moments, a time when our Congo story really kicked off, but which shifted the context for me completely. And guess what? The book is out TODAY on Amazon! Click here to order your copy!
That chapter of my life shares the pages with those of 28 other amazing women. They’ve taken the opportunity to tell a chapter of their own story of life on the move, and invite you to share some special moments with them.
Find out what life was like for a young British woman in pre-war Syria. Discover how it feels to be told you’re moving to Siberia. Learn why Dubai is just like Bradley Cooper. Experience the emotion of an emergency evacuation from Central Africa. Relish the surreal logic of Saudi Arabian bureaucracy. Laugh out loud at encounters with an Italian mother-in-law.
Those are some of my own favourites from this collection of stories. Whether you are deep in the intensity of your own ‘life on the move’, or simply enjoy reading encounters with other places and cultures, you’ll find plenty more of your own highlights in these pages.
Not only that, this book is the perfect choice of leaving gift for that special friend you’re saying goodbye to. So click here and order now, before they catch that flight!
Don’t forget that author royalties from Life on the Move will be donated to Mwana Villages in Congo, for their important work in providing refuge to the vulnerable, in orphan prevention and in family preservation. It’s a cause with close connection to some of the book’s contributors, so click here to read more about Mwana and how you can help them. (You can start by, you guessed it, clicking here to buy your copy of Life on the Move.)
And in the meantime, make sure, in the intensity of this month, that you breathe, pause, and appreciate this threshold moment, before the next chapter of your story.
Please share this post! Or alternatively any social media posts you see about ‘Life on the Move’. Help give voice to all the authors who’ve contributed, and help give more to Mwana Villages.
Do you want to read more from me, and be the first to receive extracts and essays from my upcoming memoir of travel and international living? Click here to join my journey beyond the blog, and you’ll get to read an exclusive essay ‘Belonging, Not Home, In Venice’.