the expat spirit of aloha

expat friends I met in Dutch class, from all over the world. This was taken waiting for the ferry in Amsterdam-Noord
shalom, aloha, namaste, tashi delek

It’s a melancholic and contradictory aspect of expat life that we’re always eager to connect with people and also constantly saying goodbye. We’re the nomads and the travelers of the world and we’re used to being the ones doing the leaving. But if you live any place where expats gather, at some point you’re going to be the one that’s being left.

In a way, our society has never been better prepared for this. Social media makes it possible to always keep adding friends and you never really have to reckon with the end of a friendship. We like to think we can adequately fool ourselves into believing that liking someone’s vacation photos and posting on their birthday is enough nurturing to sustain a friendship. Of course it’s not. I don’t think anyone actually believes that it is. But it can be easier to go through life thinking that you’re amassing friends, always accumulating and never really saying goodbye.

In reality, friendships come and go and friends’ roles in our lives evolve. You grow and change and move, and you gather people around you who support those efforts. It can be sad to admit, but that lineup of people doesn’t stay the same. Despite what Facebook would have us believe, no amount of likes or comments are going to ensure that our relationships remain suspended in friendship cryo-freeze forever. Marriages end, babies are born, people move away… friendships stretch and fade and strengthen and, sometimes, end.

It doesn’t have to be sad. I don’t mean it to sound sad. Just because you’re not close with someone today doesn’t diminish the importance they had then.

I’m still a relatively new expat, but I’ve already seen how quickly good people can come into my life and just as suddenly up and swap countries again. It’s hard enough to cope with the loss of a friendship without the weird social pressure from Facebook and the like that seems to ask for a certain level of friendship maintenance with everyone we’ve ever met. I’m not advocating for cutting off contact and I think there’s a lot to be said for making an effort to stay in touch. However, sometimes the kindest and most generous thing you can do for yourself and your short-stay friend is to let them go and wish them well. Be kind, open and curious with every new person who crosses your path, and don’t beat yourself up over not keeping in touch when they continue on their way. Extend the same forgiveness to them.

Cherish the people in your life. Love the one you’re with.

And when it’s time for them to leave, wish them well.

Say aloha.

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