I am on a flight from Los Angeles to Hartford as I write this letter. It was only a 48-hour trip. Oddly, saying goodbye to my family this time exacted more stress than usual. That caused me to think a lot about “goodbyes” and about how those of us who travel a great deal sometimes take saying “goodbye” for granted. I refuse to be alone in this!Our volunteers traveling to a new land and possibly a remote place tell me that they find saying goodbye to family and friends a conflicting exercise. On one hand they are so excited for the new experience and to be helping people in need. On the other hand, many of our volunteers are away for an extended time, and they miss their friends and family.
The first time I traveled abroad was July 1976. A high school English teacher in Goodland, Kansas, I took 13 students on a 4-week tour of Athens, Rome, Florence, Innsbruck, Paris and London. (I think the all-inclusive trip of 3 meals per day, including airfare, hotels & tours cost $1300 and that included the Bicentennial Passport!)
Even after 30+ years of traveling professionally, one would think that first trip would be the one that stands out among them all. Well, no. If that were the case, there would be no story line in this letter! Actually, the trip I remember most is the one I took in 1982. It marked the first time I left my son, who was all of six months old at the time. For the first time in my life I experienced what being conflicted was all about. On one hand, I was excited to be leaving for London and the work I was going to do there. On the other, I had never experienced such pain. I learned that temporary loss can be as painful as permanent loss. The only difference is that the moment you walk out the door you actually begin the journey home. And therein lies any comfort of saying goodbye.
Time has passed. That six month old is now 25 years old. He works here at GeoVisions. These days, his nine-year old sister and six-year old brother have taken his place in the list of people I hate to leave. We do have a family tradition, which seems to be working most of the time. The tradition makes it a GOOD-bye, rather than a good-BYE. I place a note on Molly & Abe's beds before leaving the house. And sometimes they will even sneak in a note or two in my bag when they think I’m not looking. With cell phones, e-mail and video chats over the Internet, travelers need to be no further than their phones or computer screens. Still, the written notes are the best. The act of placing a note on a pillow and then calling home later and hearing them laugh down the phone at what I wrote is even better than seeing them on the web cam. (And I’m not ready to give that up either.)
Here at GeoVisions all of us salute our volunteers and teachers for the work you do abroad in remote communities that desperately need your help and with at-risk animals to keep them healthy and safe. We also salute you for the courage to say GOOD-bye, to accomplish these GOOD works.
My plane is landing now in Chicago. I’m one stop closer to home. In another week my family will be saying GOOD-bye again with funny little notes as I leave for Washington, DC. This week we have volunteers leaving for South Africa, Costa Rica and Argentina. They will each struggle with their own form of GOOD-bye. And the cycle will continue. But one thing will be the same, no matter where they are, no matter how long they will be away. The first step out the door begins the journey home.