why is it that it’s only on leaving something behind that you fully appreciate it?
i finished my job last week – and in the madness leading up to my last day, i found myself working flat out, to the point of exhaustion. everyone around me kept asking if i’d mentally checked out yet, and the truth was that i hadn’t because i couldn’t let go. part of it was an untimely confluence of crises that happened in the last weeks, but a larger part of it was pride – i was too proud to do a half-assed job even when most other people would have simply called it good enough and done. my colleagues kept telling me, “you can only do what you can do”, and they were right, obviously – but i was so afraid of letting people down that i couldn’t see my own limitations.
feeding into that last minute frenzy, there was a whole leaving chorus of “what will we do without you?!” intellectually, i know, of course, that no one is indispensable. in a few months, someone else in that job will have made their own mark, blurred my footprints. but it was nice to hear, nonetheless. because as much as i moaned about it, and stressful as it could often be, there were two things about leaving this job that made it so bittersweet.
first: that i was damned good at it. oh sure, there have been other jobs where i felt competent and capable. but there are very few jobs that really play to your strengths, and this was one of them. and being damned good at something gives you job satisfaction that tides you over even when other things at work aren’t great. i used to come home and complain/brag about how much i’d done – but i always had a secret sense of accomplishment that gave me a little smile. and people appreciated my work.
secondly: that i am leaving before i really want to. leaving a job because you’ve become bored, or resentful, or overworked, etc. is something i’m pretty familiar with. when you have that bitter taste at the back of your throat because you’ve come to hate something you spend so many hours a day doing – there are no mixed feelings when you finally leave. but there has been one other job where i felt i left before i was ready, and i’ve always kind of regretted that. i was essentially forced out of this job – and so i am ambivalent and heavy-hearted to have had to leave. i might not have ended sticking around for very much longer – but it’s hard to walk away knowing there was more you would have wanted to do.
and i suppose that those feelings are also reflected in my leaving london. as much as i may moan about it, and as stressful as it has often been, living in london has given me a sense of satisfaction and achievement. even in my grousing and bitching, there’s a hint of smugness in knowing that i am bitching about london – a city many would love to have the opportunity to live in, and which i have had the luxury of bitching about for eight years now. there’s a secret sense of accomplishment in getting here and living here that turns up the corners of my mouth ever so slightly. i may have had to gut it out at times, but i was damned good at london.
similarly, as much as i’ve wanted to leave for a while now, i do in some ways feel as though i’m leaving before the end. i haven’t wrung all the last drops of joy out of this experience yet. since the beginning of the year when it became clear that this move was in the cards, i’ve been looking at london with fresh new eyes. feeling it with the heart of someone anticipating the empty space it will leave. appreciating it in a way that i couldn’t when the years were just stretched out endlessly before me. the other day was my move-iversary, and i was remembering that initial honeymoon phase when everything about london seemed grand and even the mundane was new and quaint. all the little things that have become just so much background noise that i barely even notice them – except now that i know i will miss them, they jump out at me all the time. maybe even without this catalyst, i would be leaving soon anyway, and maybe it’s better to leave with fond memories and regrets of things not yet done, than with a sour lump of resentment. but i can’t help feeling that, like my job, my stay was incomplete.
“absence makes the heart grow fonder” – i’d never known the origins of that line, but it’s been spinning in my head for days. how apt then, that it’s an englishman who wrote it.
One of England’s more versatile writers, Thomas Haynes Bayly wrote novels, plays, poems, political articles, and songs. In 1844 a poem titled “Isle of Beauty” appeared in Bayly’s two-volume Songs, Ballads, and Other Poems. It is here that the following romantic words are found:
What would not I give to wander
Where my old companions dwell?
Absence makes the heart grow fonder:
Isle of Beauty, fare thee well!
as people keep reminding me, you can only do what you can do. and so, dear london, dear england, dear isle of beauty, goodbye – for now.