As far as I can tell, there are three kinds of endings that mark the points along this curvy road of life. First there is the quietly-disappear-don’t-realize-it’s-never-coming-back kind of ending where life goes on as normal and the possibility of the thing that just ended still exists in your mind. You don’t think to say goodbye because you don’t know it’s time for that, and usually it’s ages before you realize that something is missing that can no longer be. A bit like childhood. Then there’s the ripped-from-the-fabric-of-life-instant-off-bandaid kind of ending. It’s the unexpected switchback on the road – something happens and suddenly life is shooting off in a new direction and the former, familiar pattern of things is a distant memory. A bit like getting shoved into a cold lake on a warm day. Finally, there’s the watch-it-from-a-long-way-off-train-chugging-up-the-valley-pulling-in-to-pick-you-up kind of ending. You can see it coming for miles, so you try to thicken life where you are just a little longer. You sit extra still and just feel – shut your eyes and pick out the sounds, breathe deeply and take in the present air, heavy with the bitter and sweet of the familiar. You say silent goodbyes to each important experience of place or person as it happens because you know it will not come again, that you will soon be parted. A bit like watching the seasons change.
I’ve never liked endings. There has always been so much pain involved – so much giving up, letting go, saying goodbye – so much grief. Even when what is coming is good, the ending is so much like a kind of death that there has always been something for me to mourn, and I have often retraced my story by the trail of tears. Until … It’s hard to explain in this blog space what changed, but there was indeed a profound change without which this new chapter might not have ever happened. This decision to move to London, to pursue a masters, to leave Kenya after six years, to let go of the first place to ever feel like “home” without knowing when or if I would be back, was like the train-chugging-up-the-valley. I could see it coming from a long way off, and yet … there was another change that had been happening simultaneously inside me that was much more like the quietly-disappear kind of change: the dissolution of grief. For the last year and a bit, God has been quietly and persistently dissolving the old, crusty mess of grief that had built up in all the cracks of my heart. That ending is a different story, but the implication for this one is profound. For the first time in my life, I could see the end of a chapter coming and I was not pounded by heartbreaking waves of grief; I didn’t want to run and hide from the coming change; I didn’t try to turn back the train and make it stop, though this time I could have.
The end began with a trip to the beach. I went down to Watamu (my second favorite spot on the Kenyan coast) for the Easter weekend in April, and spent three days soaking in the sun, sand, salt water, memories, meanings, longings, and loves. Back home there was a Yearbook, past deadline, still demanding edits; there were school concerts and NCC concerts to finish organizing and perform; there were exams to prepare and report cards to write. All those would happen at the right time and savoring the moment would be key – a weekend at the beach was the warm-up round.
Very soon after the beach and in the thick of all the deadlines came a lovely visit from my mom. She flew in from Congo and spent about a week enjoying the relative peace of Nairobi, cooking comfort as only mothers can, resting, reading, and encouraging me through my hectic schedule. Then, in May, right after the final concerts were done and the Yearbook had been sent to the publisher, another friend came to visit for a week. It was his first time to Africa, and what better opportunity to say goodbye to some of the places I love than to show them to a newcomer? We went to Naivasha and Crescent Island, Nakuru Park and the Menangai Crater, the elephant orphanage and the giraffe park, and several of my favorite restaurants. (And all this with me only taking a day and a half off work!) To see a familiar world through fresh eyes is a gift and a joy, and I am thankful for it every time it happens. The pictures were numerous and mostly of sites I’ve already pictured on this blog, so I’ll share only a couple here.
Once Peter had left and the time of visitors was finished, I began to dismantle my apartment. This packing job was different from any I had done before. Everything had to be sorted into three categories: 1) stuff to store for a year, 2) stuff to take to London, and 3) stuff to sell, give, or throw away. I am thankful that a good friend was letting me store the bulk of my stuff in her spare shed area and that the school had agreed to delay my shipment by a year. Little by little, one car-load at a time, the place I had grown to fill so comfortably began to empty. And then it just wouldn’t end.
Packing up a home is a messy process and the dribbley dregs are the worst – all those bits and pieces at the back of drawers or closets, the little things that you don’t need to keep but don’t know what to do with, things that can still be used but you don’t know who would want them … these are the dribbles that seem to go on and on forever. You think you’ve only got a box or two left to pack and then you realize there’s still a table full of odds and ends, and it’s nearly midnight and you’ve been doing this for days so you’re decision-making skills are shot. The deadline is real though – there is a definite plane to catch – so there comes a moment when you sweep it all into a box and leave it outside the front door hoping someone curious will find something he or she is looking for.
Packing has a way too of scattering and then refocusing your memories. As I untangled my life from the space it had occupied, I caught glimpses of all the highs and lows that had happened in that space. And as I considered the feelings of thoughtfulness and thankfulness that surrounded each memory, an old hymn lodged itself in the far corners of my brain and wouldn’t turn off. In my last few hours at the apartment – when the space was empty but for a few boxes, and the echo in the room reminded me of the day that I first walked in – I decided to record myself singing. I set GarageBand on my IPad to “dry” and tried to see if it would pick up the natural resonance in the room. It did a bit, but not quite like experiencing it live. Still, the hymn was begging to be heard – good voice or crackly, good recording or no. So here it is … the last thing I did before locking the door at The Everglades on Kabete Lane – not because I was weighed down by grief but because God had freed me from it. As though an echo of the first me in that house six years ago had slipped through a crack in time speaking wisdom and prophecy over the years to come, it said Be Still My Soul and the present me said Amen.
Thank you, Lillis. Dad