It feels to me like this round of goodbyes has been going on for ages. It is taking forever to say goodbye because there are individuals who I saw for the last time several weeks ago, but there are also people who I see every day, up to and including today, my very last day in Hermanus. So I've been forced into this long, strung out, semi-disengaged state of perpetual farewell. Frankly, that really sucks, and I'm pretty terrible at this. I have a tendency to plan out a lovely thank you and goodbye in my head, and then when it comes time to say it, I just can't do it. Instead I say something like 'see ya!' and then turn my back and walk away. I even do that to people who mean a lot to me (I especially do that to people who mean a lot to me). Like Karen Blixon, I'm better at hello.
I was looking back at some of my first blog posts the other day, and I ran across this in a post from way back in June 2013:
"There will be people in South Africa who I will come to love and who I will miss terribly when it is time to come home."
I wrote that two months before I ever set foot on this continent, but I was right. There is so much I will miss about life in SA, and nothing more than the people. I really cannot possibly overstate how wonderful all of my people are. I was incredibly lucky that I was able to get to know a group of South Africans so well, that they allowed me to attach myself to them, let me fall in love with them. Or, as I like to phrase it, I am so lucky that I got found by the right people.
I read Eat, Pray, Love recently. Elizabeth Gilbert is certainly no Marilynne Robinson, but she does make some good points. My favorite part of the book comes in the Pray section, when Richard from Texas tells Liz, "So you fell in love... I mean, you got zapped, kiddo. But that love you felt, that's just the beginning. You just got a taste of love. That's just limited little rinky-dink mortal love. Wait til you see how much more deeply you can love than that. Heck, you have the capacity to someday love the whole world." In the book, Richard from Texas is talking about Liz's ex boyfriend, and although my situation is very different here (I'm obviously not talking about a guy), that's how I feel about this past year. Africa opened me up. I got to fall in love again, and good Lord did I fall hard. But as much as I love these people and this place, it's nothing compared to the unfathomable, infinite, eternal love that God feels for all of Creation, the entire world. This puny human love that I am so overwhelmed by is not even a drop in the bucket of all that is really out there. But I think anytime we learn to love something new, it brings us closer to God. And that is the real joy of mission work.
During this year, I've seen a lot of rainbows. I saw one the first day I ever came to Hermanus last August and took it as a sign that this year would turn out ok, I saw the one on my way home from Kruger Park in May when I was just beginning to struggle with saying goodbye to Hawston, and over the past two weeks in Cape Town and Hermanus, I have seen so many rainbows that I've actually lost count. Maybe it's a little selfish to think that all of these were meant just for me, but that's how I feel. It's almost like God is telling me, "It's ok, everything is just how it should be, and I am here with you."
If you have received an email from me in the past week or so you may have noticed a new quote in the signature line: "Bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home." (Take a guess who wrote that... I am nothing if not predictable.) But I love this quote because I have spent this past year wandering, in the best possible sense of the word, and in doing so I've become so much more aware of God's presence in the world and of His presence in people. Honestly, I am a bit bewildered right now - how can I leave a place I love so much? what will I do when I get home? will I ever come back? - but that's ok. God is faithful, and at no time are we ever alone. We are surrounded by that infinite love no matter where in the world we happen to be at any particular time. So it's ok to be sad to leave, to be bad at goodbyes. Because I'm leaving the people I love in good hands. God is watching out for them, and He's all over the place - in Hermanus, in Richmond, and even unto the ends of the earth.