I think the hardest part of leaving a place that you have called home for almost 16 years is lying to rest the ghosts of your past and saying good-bye.
Saying good-bye to friends and colleagues, some that you have known for almost as long as you have been in Korea is hard enough, but what ghosts would I have to lie to rest?
I suppose if there were any “ghosts” they would have to be all those dreams and desires which brought me here originally, not to mention many of those life-defining moments—both successes and failures, triumphs and tragedy—which will forever be linked to the time I was in Korea. When you’ve been somewhere for as long as I have and then one day, decide to pull up stakes and leave, you find yourself going through a gamut of emotions as you look back on your life for all those years and everything you’ve experienced. There are some things that you want to hold onto; there are other things you just want to forget and put behind you.
Even though you knew this day was eventually going to come, it doesn’t make it any easier when you are about ready to end this chapter of your life. Would it have been any easier if I had only stayed here for a few years? Would it have been better off for me to have taken some time off after my wife passed away five years ago?
At the same time, I often think about that Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken” as I think about all the “roads” I have taken while I have been living here all these years. Some roads were a dead-end; others were the right paths for me to take at the time.
I have traveled down some pretty rocky roads while I have been in Korea and I suppose I did a fair amount of stumbling and tripping. When I think about some of the roads that I could have taken—professional and personal—how would have my life played out differently? It’s easy to look back and say what you could have done and what you should have done, but at the time you thought you were doing the right thing.
Choices and decisions were made, some good and some bad and some I would rather forget, but everything that was set in motion nearly 16 years ago has led me to where I am at today.
Since I handed in my resignation last month and started getting ready to leave Korea, I have had a lot of things on my mind. Today I was thinking about the night before I came to Korea and how excited I was to come here. I was saying good-bye to friends and family again and ending another chapter to my life. I had already seen my Mother (who was living in Texas at the time) two weeks before for Thanksgiving and now I was fitting in those last-minute good-byes.
I had lunch with Dick Verucchi (I would not see him for another 15 years), met my good friend Louis Kirsteatter, who I would see again in 1992 (before he suffered a nervous breakdown and would never be the same again), and a phone call in the evening to my college friend/roommate Luke McQuade (who I still haven’t seen since).
I had been staying with my grandparents prior to leaving for Korea and in the back of my mind there was that fear that I might not see them again. I would when I came home for the holidays in 1992, but it would be the last time that I would see them both alive (my grandmother died in 1995 and my grandfather 3 years later). It was right before Christmas and my grandmother had this small Christmas tree in the window. She told me how much she missed coming home (my grandparents still enjoyed stopping in one of their favorite bars after doing the shopping for the week) and seeing the tree lit in the window. I made sure that I had gotten home in time so I could turn on the tree for her. I would like to think that I did something very special for her before I left for Korea.
It’s funny some of the things you remember when you are about to leave a place that you might not ever return to again. I know all the times that I have been back home since; things are never the same anymore. Memories are a funny thing. We sometimes remember only what we want to remember, and then remember the way things were before we set off on whatever adventure that lay ahead. Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right after all, “you can’t go home again.”
Well, I am about ready to take another road and I am filled again with much anticipation and expectation, as I was when I came to Korea in 1990. And there will be a lot of memories that I will be taking with me—nearly sixteen-year’s worth. That’s a lot of baggage to carry.