I’ve noticed recently that I don’t want to leave the house. I’ve been choosing warm blankets next to the heater over the crisp air and sunshine. It may be because it’s February, which is usually the time of year when I feign hibernation and sink myself into books or limited series on Netflix. But I’m pretty sure it’s because I don’t want to run into anyone right now — because if I run into someone, I’m going to have to tell them we are moving.
Moving. To Tokyo. In thirty days. There is just so much to catch a friend up on, so many reasons to discuss, questions to answer, and losses to lament! I’m afraid of disappointing them. I don’t want to tell a friend that it’s been hard to live in her city, even though I love its people, its lifestyle and scenery. There are landscape snapshots in my mind from the past ten years: the sunset from the park in our neighborhood; the mountains in the background, clear in November and misty in August; the reflection of the drain water in the street as I walk between my daughter’s preschool and the parking lot; the rice fields, in every season; the mikan stand and its gentleman vendor who always gives us two or three extra; the little tree with red berries in my neighbor’s yard — I could go on and on. Then there are the faces: my neighbor who makes jewelry; the many kids who graced our doorstep and laughed in our rooms; the teammates and friends who shared work with us; the teacher who beams when she talks about my kid; the businessman who has rooted for our little shop every chance he got; the midwife who delivered three of my four children and cared for all of us; the friend who faithfully greeted me with a smile — a community of people who have let us into their lives over the years, welcomed us into their schools and stores and hearts. I don’t want to watch their faces when I tell them that we are leaving, that it stopped being good for our family to be here, that we worked so hard to find a solution to stay, because we love them, and we love their city, our city — but we can’t.
I hate goodbyes. They’re so hard, and I sometimes would rather hide than face the music.
* * * * *
Today I went to my doctor’s office to get a medication refill. I told him that I would be moving in a month, so he asked me if I was going to America and said he would have my records ready for me when I came back next time. I think to him I’m probably just another patient, but to me, he was somebody who told me I was going to have a baby girl, who patted my hand and gave me a confident smile when I was struggling through panic attacks, who reassured me when it was time to wean from anxiety medication. He is probably somewhere in his late 60s, with thousands of people having come in and out of his office, so I’m sure I don’t mean very much to him. But to me, he is the kind person who helped me when I was very scared, and I have a strong sense of wanting to express this to him before I leave. I want to write him a letter, but my Japanese is so childish, and can he read English? I suppose I will just have to write what I can and pray.
It’s after my appointment now, and I’m sitting in a parking lot with gas station coffee, dictating into my phone and crying about missing my doctor when I move. That almost makes me laugh, but then I cry again. Moving is hard, particularly when you have been careful to keep your heart soft and make connections, even if you know their impermanence. It makes leaving very painful.
Next door to my doctor’s office is my children’s doctor, to whom we have gone for every vaccination, well-child check, and illness from the time my oldest was one-and-a-half. Here we are, 10 years later, and their office staff knows my voice when I call on the phone. When we go in, the doctor makes jokes with us, when he used to not really know what to do with our foreign faces and the strange line of questioning we Westerners are accustomed to shooting at medical personnel. I’ve seen the office staff change, old faces leave and new ones come in — and I know that the staff left and perhaps didn’t bat an eye that it was going to be the last time we saw them. So why is it that I feel a sense of loss that I may never see these people again? I enjoyed them, and they served us and loved on my little people. I am profoundly sad that I won’t walk in those doors anymore. Sometimes I wonder if I make too deep connections with random people, but I think the body is this something that I’m particularly anxious about, so people who care for my body and work to make me feel safe really earn my love. I’ve had to work on trusting them, because of language barriers and cultural gaps — trust was not a simple thing that just happened. Without being able to understand the details of what was going on in that little pediatrician’s office, I had to put my children’s lives in their hands and just trust that they would make good decisions. This emotional work has made it very hard to leave them. I don’t really even want to tell them — but I will.
* * * * *
The catch-twenty-two of some of these things is that our family will go to a new city, where we will meet new neighbors and have new kids run through our doors and new doctors who serve us, and if our hearts are open, we will come to love them as much as we love our current city, friends and neighbors.
I’m starting to think that one of the hardest and most worthy goals in life will be to have an open and soft heart throughout the inevitable seasons, sorrows and transitions — to remain hopeful enough to connect in meaningful ways with the people inside and outside my home, even though I don’t know whether it will continue or how it might end. One way I’m practicing this right now is to have the conversations about moving that I’m not very excited to have, to be brave enough to let others be disappointed, sad, or even frustrated with our choices, rather than hiding or sneaking through it all.
Goodbyes are hard — so many things just feel unfinished, with potential and possibilities just .. ending. I want to look at what we’ve done, and also what we’ve not done, during our 10 years (!!!) in Shizuoka and be thankful. It was what it was, and I think it was good.
Next stop: Tokyo.