Every time we say goodbye

Saying goodbye to friends is never easy, but the end of an era can be the perfect reminder to live in the moment.

Living abroad is an immensely rewarding experience: the constant sense of adventure; opportunities for language learning; a greater respect and tolerance for difference. However, as an ex-pat, one inevitably makes a lot of ex-pat friends. It’s only natural – you’re taking language lessons together, perhaps working in international companies, people helpfully introduce you at parties (“Jo – meet Svetlana – she’s Russian so, well, foreign, just like you! You must have lots to discuss…”). And, in my opinion, having ex-pat friends is no bad thing, it’s certainly not a worry.


Until your ex-pat friends come over all patriotic and leave.

My refined and notoriously indecisive Bostonian friend (it’s all very “Where do you summer?” à la Katherine Hepburn), whom I have in past musings referred to as Peggy-Sue, is returning to her native land, where a new job and her wonderful man await. Despite being thrilled for her, this imminent departure makes me unutterably sad. Peggy was a bridesmaid at my wedding; she’s spent Christmas with my family; I call her when I need to work out the Big Issues of life and when I have nothing other to report than what I ate for dinner. Her not being in the same country or even in the same time zone any more will leave a chasm in my life.

All good things

Quite a few friends have left Paris recently – sabbatical years, travelling, job opportunities – but they all plan to come back. Not Peggy-Sue. She’s leaving on a jet plane and not coming back again. Since I found out, I’ve been heavy-hearted, with an unshakeable end-of-an-era feeling. The fact that Peg’s departure coincides with my getting married and a number of friends either doing likewise or having babies only adds to my fin-de-siècle malaise. Like many thirty-somethings, we’re closing the Roaring Twenties chapter of our lives and starting a new one; and while, in its own way, it’s equally as thrilling, I can’t help but mourn the end of a glorious period of much spontaneity and few responsibilities.

Profit and loss

The French have a wonderful verb for which I’ve never found a satisfying English translation: profiter. It means “to make the most of” or to “fully take advantage of”, though neither seem to really capture the notion of living fully, enjoying, savouring. It’s a word I’ve often had in mind of late. Have I lived this era of my life to the full? Have I made the most of my twenties and of Peggy Sue, enjoyed time spent together, gone places and done things we wanted? I’m still trying to answer myself, and I’m guessing the reply is somewhere in the grey area of “yes, but could have done more”.

Making your mind up

So that’s what I’m trying to focus on in the run-up to Peggy’s leaving. Living deeply and fully. Enjoying every moment. Savouring the people in my world. I can’t redo the chapter of my life that’s slowly coming to a close, but I can learn from it and resolve to make the next one even more of a page-turner. I can make the trip to visit Peggy Sue (and not simply talk about it); schedule skype dates over a glass of wine (and not just collapse in front of the television); make more time for friends who are still in Paris (and elsewhere); book tickets for that stand-up comic/play/band (instead of simply looking at the posters)… I’m sad to see my friend move so far away, but I have control over how our friendship evolves and the time I choose to invest in it from a distance. I can choose to wallow and focus on all the things we’ll no longer do together (silly films, Friday night drinks), or I can choose to be here now and make the most of what is. One path leads to misery and statis, the other promises growth, joy and gratitude.

Even Peggy-Sue would see that’s no dilemma!





Put a little love in your heart

Whatever your Facebook relationship status, take the opportunity to spread some love this Valentine’s day.

No sooner have we recovered from Christmas and New Year, it seems that Valentine’ day is upon us, bringing with it the usual overpriced bouquets, heart-shaped chocolates, adverts for red lingerie and special coupled-themed menus. Clearly, the commercial furore that surrounds the day is nonsensical, but, to the best of my knowledge, few of the people buying roses and champagne at twice the normal price had guns held to the heads as they did so. In fact, who can blame the shops for trying to cash in? It’s something of a shame and may not be pretty but that’s the nature of business. The same happens every Mothering Sunday too, but no-one seems to complain as much about florists jacking up their prices then. Nor does anyone moan about Easter and the inflated price of hollow chocolate eggs and their promotion of the latest animation films.

What’s love got to do with it?

No, it seems that for Valentine’s day, society reserves a specially virulent and personal type of criticism; accusations of commercialisation are but the tip of the iceberg. It brings out the beast in so many journalists, who choose to attack “the cult of the couple”, using Jonsian terminology like “smug marrieds” and “singletons”. To listen to them, Valentine’s day is an elaborate establishment-backed plot designed to force us into the horrors and degradation of a committed relationship, encourage us to spend money in restaurants run by dictatorial waiting staff, and ultimately promote the evil and destructive institution that is – gasp – marriage.

Love lifts us up where we belong

Personally, I have never understood the extent of the backlash against a day that, in essence, simply celebrates love. When I was single, it never occurred to me to hold an anti-Valentine party, with ex-boyfriends burned in effigy and vows of chastity proclaimed. It has always seemed rather uplifting to me that we have a day to rejoice in love. Now that I am lucky enough to have met my beloved, I seize the annual opportunity to celebrate our relationship and revel in the happiness we inspire in each other. In a world where rudeness and cruelty are considered comical and aggression and violence are commonplace, what is so wrong with a day that celebrates loving and giving? Why, when we all sing along to “All you need is love”, lap up romcom films, actually, and cheer at “Reader, I married him”, do we balk at the idea of showing a little tenderness and appreciation for others in our own lives.

Love is all around us

Come to think of it, why does it have to be confined to romantic love? Sure, we’re pretty much all looking for Mr, Miss or indeed Ms Right, but, in the absence of that person (for the moment), why can’t we make Valentine’s day an opportunity to take a beat and remember all the love we have for the other special people in our lives – friends, family, teachers, students, colleagues. And what if we expanded our definition of love? The Bible’s references to charity are often interpreted literally to mean giving to the less fortunate, but they can be taken more figuratively to mean acting towards others with a charitable attitude – with love. In other words – giving someone the benefit of the doubt, letting them off the hook, offering a hand. Maybe Valentine’s day can be a yearly reminder to act with goodwill and the kindness that comes with remembering that we are all connected on a spiritual level.

How deep is your love?

It really is the case that what the world need now is love, sweet love. What if we made showing love for others an everyday priority? One of the many criticisms of Valentine’s day is that you shouldn’t just say “I love you” once a year, but every day, and, of course, that’s true. A bunch of flowers once a year clearly doesn’t make up for negligence and meanness the rest of the time, but just as Thanksgiving offers a yearly reminder to show gratitude for our blessings, maybe Valentine’s day can provide an annual prompt towards showing a little more love and charity for others.