The Art of Leaving

n1385613360_10379_7066My Swahili teacher at UGA, Rose, spent several years in Athens getting her PhD in Linguistics. She graduated and moved back to Tanzania at the beginning of this summer. I got an email from her asking if I could help bring some of her books to Tanzania with me when I go. I went to her husband Boniface’s place a few days later. He is also from Tanzania, and will be flying back soon. He helped me load the 60-pound suitcase of books into my trunk, then invited me in for tea. He, his roommate, and I sat around the kitchen table for the next hour-and-a-half and talked about Tanzanian politics and culture. For a while, Boniface spoke with his wife on the phone. He sifted through the boxes floating around the living room.

“Scrabble,” I heard him say, holding the game in his hand. “I think I will take it.”

A discussion about the pros and cons of packing Scrabble ensued, and I thought about the process he was going through–of packing up, shipping out, and starting anew…what I’ll be doing in just one month from now. What will I take with me? Not Scrabble. But what about my Bob Dylan Greatest Hits CD, or my favorite blanket, or high heels? What about the poster of Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’ and my acoustic guitar? What about family, friends? The small ache in my chest blossomed into something more. What about walking through North Campus, what about having lunch at the Globe? What about driving around a town where the memory of streets and places resides not in my mind but in my muscles and tendons and veins? What about the people I love?

I’m leaving the chartered waters of my world. Satellites can track my path, pin-point my location on a computer screen, but the map of my life is centuries behind the times. There are places wholly undiscovered. A wide tundra of blank space stretches between the borders of my birth and death. Romantic poets spoke of the sublime–awesome, terrifying beauty. Wonder-laced fear. I imagine them, wind-whipped and solitary, toes grazing the edges of cliffs, sending me off.

Boniface and Rose decided eventually not to take Scrabble. I left wondering what else they would choose to take or leave. But I also knew that no matter what ends up here or there, they will be together, and that’s what matters. And I will be exploring, searching, changing. I will be filling in my map.

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