Saying Goodbye

I left New Jersey early this morning for San Francisco and the Fulbright China 2007 orientation. I said farewell to my family, friends, and Bailey (my yellow lab) with more than a little sadness and apprehension as this will be the longest separation from my family ever. Of course, I’m excited about the trip and full of the hope and anticipation that pervades the traveler at the onset of a journey. But I know I will miss my loved ones and that they will miss me.

This all made me think of a poem by the Chinese poet Li Bai. In “Seeing Off an Old Friend,” Li Bai says:

Once we’ve parted here;
Like tumbleweed you’ll be off on a thousand-mile journey

Floating clouds express the wanderer’s ideal;
and the sinking sun, an old friend’s melancholy

This poem catches the tension in goodbyes. The traveler’s “ideal” seems to be the promise of the journey, the desire to find meaning in the encounter with a new horizon. Certainly for me a trip to China brings with it that desire to break with old habits of being in the world and find a new and fresh perspective on who I am and what I do. Li Bai’s “floating clouds” convey the elusive nature of this traveler’s ideal though and perhaps even its dangers.

This ideal is contrasted with the “sinking sun” of the melancholy or sadness of the friend left behind. I’m not sure if this describes the feelings of those I’ve left behind. It probably does to some extent. But I know I certainly feel it as the traveler – holding both ideal and sadness in my heart at the same time

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