We leave Göttingen tomorrow, eleven months to the day from when we arrived. It’s perhaps trite to say that we are a different family now than we were then, but it is certainly true. And I think we may only now be beginning to see evidence of this. When we return home to our once familiar environment, I think we’ll start to see more of how this year has affected us, as a family and individuals. Or, actually, I hope this is so.
For now, we are immersed in a swirl of emotions that is beyond my ability to accurately describe. This past week has been one of our most difficult weeks here — saying good-bye without really knowing when or if we’ll see our German friends and home again. Knowing that on Monday, friends here will be back sitting in their seats in class, while we’ll be sitting on a plane flying across an ocean. That new people will be lying in our beds already on Monday night. Knowing that life will go on here, without us.
But, we will also be returning to our friends and Gramma, our lovely house and giant garden, our supportive and familiar community, our beautiful state of Vermont. We miss it, like glimpses of precious memories that float through our minds. These images are comforting, and dear, and part of our core.
Last night at dinner, Greta said, “I know that deep down, I will be happy to be back in Vermont. It is my home, and I love it there. But now, on the surface, my feelings are even stronger that I want to stay here. Now Göttingen feels like my home, and I love it here. How am I supposed to figure this out?”
Aside from the fact that of course we are still in Göttingen, and of course the present is always the most vivid, I think the reason that at this point we’re all wishing more that we could stay rather than go, is that we have worked really hard to make this our home. Fitting in, figuring things out, finding our way did not come easily, so our friends and our place here is that much more precious because we have earned it.
We have had to learn a new language and culture, and we have had to overcome so much to have the many friends and familiarities we have here. For the kids, their friends in Vermont have, for the most part, been part of their lives since very early, many since birth. Greta’s best friends going into middle school were her best friends in preschool. Many of the kids’ friends are the children of friends and colleagues of Jason’s and mine. They fell into many of their friends. And they are lucky, because they are fantastic friends and wonderful children.
But here, they had no past to join them to friends, not even a common language. So, they had to learn the language and work to build relationships and special moments. And it wasn’t always easy–in fact it was often extremely difficult. But they now have lots of friends and rituals and bonds with children here. And the hard work has made the friendships perhaps a bit sweeter.
So, the bittersweet taste in our mouths is both a result of sadness at our departure, of leaving friends we earned by overcoming so much, and excitement at our arrival and the welcome home from friends we’ve always had in our hearts.
We will miss a lot from this year. Of course friends, and lots of good foods and drinks. Walter will miss the architecture, especially the churches. One of his favorite daily rituals is walking atop the medieval city wall and examining the steeples of the city’s two biggest churches. He will miss his big buddy, Niko, too.
Anya will miss the amazing tight-knit group of girls in her class, with whom she is always getting together, enjoying celebrations, calling on the phone. She has certainly been the most well-connected of the kids this year. She will also miss the dark, rich breads, abundant sweet treats, and the assortment of interesting cold cuts and meats.
Greta will miss her fabulous school, its student community, top-notch teachers and challenging classes. She has been lucky to be in a school that is a perfect fit for her needs as a non-native speaker and dedicated student. She will also miss the freedom that is afforded to kids her age here, allowing them see and do more on their own.
Jason will miss the incredible opportunity to focus so closely on his research and writing, while at the same time making connections with other scholars from around the world in his own field and others. The time to think big thoughts, discuss them, revise them, write them down, and then travel around a new continent and present them, is a true gift. Add to that the daily ritual of walking in an old European city, and the year was a dream in many ways.
I will miss the Wochenmarkt and the many vendors with whom I’ve become friends, and who have helped me not only feed my family but gain confidence in my German. I will miss my wine shop and the wonderful wines I’ve drunk this year, running across the street to say hi and flirt and get a bottle of wine. I will miss riding my bike through the streets of this beautiful city. My bike has been my practical method for hauling just about anything, but mostly I love the opportunity to pedal through the glowing city at night across the cobble stones with the breeze on my face. I feel free and young and lucky.
We will all miss the opportunity to travel so easily. The kids and I have traveled in four different countries this year, seeing each of the capital cities, beautiful mountains, farmlands and coasts, as well. Jason has traveled even more. We will miss speaking and hearing German every day. The girls are both fluent in German, and their nearly flawless, age-appropriate German has become ingrained in who they are, and how they think. And Walter is on his way too. And I will miss the puzzle, and the pride I feel when I finally figure out how to say something!
Lastly, we will miss the ready opportunity to see something new everyday, to have an adventure of language or culture or architecture or art. We will miss seeing things from a different perspective so frequently. We will hold these things, and more, dear. There is nothing like the opportunity to spend a year with your family in another country. It alters time, and reality, and the bonds of a family to each other and the world around them.
We are not ready to leave, we’d like to stay. I know though that we will quickly reconnect with our friends and community in Vermont. And soon the bitterness will fade, and the sweet memories of the year will remain. Things will never be the same, this year has made sure of that. But we have all learned, that you have to get through the bitter to get to the sweet. Both with the welcome and the farewell.