LAST LOOKS

A novice monk posing for a picture near Yangon, Myanmar.

The ending of time spent in a foreign country is something I know well. Yet, it doesn’t get any easier each time I’ve come to an end point in life. The more I invest in a place, the harder it is to leave.

I’ve dug deeply into Myanmar. But, I need a break. Exhaustion to the core has set in. Dread consumes my motivation to go to work most days. I’m burnt out. I’m not as intentional about soaking up every little experience and interaction like I used to be. It’s time for a change. And with change comes goodbyes.

Some goodbyes are forever. It’s important to fully grasp this concept, I’ve learned, or you’ll miss out on a truly beautiful, wholly intimate moment with someone special. Someone you’ll likely never see again.

Looking a person in the eye while saying farewell is powerful and uncomfortable. But, you have to do it. You owe it to each other, to yourself at least. Let the final visual embrace you share with another person etch itself in line with countless other lasting sights. And tell whomever it is what they’ve meant, and what they’ll always mean to you.

I’ve been contemplating last looks recently. A lot of last looks I’ve experienced come to mind from former lives I’ve loved. Most were good, well thought-out and planned. Some were sudden, unexpected—sad. Others have been funny, heartfelt, dramatic, or too rushed. All remain in heart and surface often. They bring me joy. They bring me pain. They make me feel.

I appreciate the ones I’ve exchanged with my friend, Stephanie, in Thailand. We expect to see each other again, but we still believe it’s important to create that last look because “you never know when you might get hit by a bus,” according to Stephanie. It’s true. I’ve had several near death-by-bus-while-standing-in-the-middle-of-the-road incidents occur in Myanmar. Glad I’m still around to type about it.

I can hardly bear to think about the last looks I’ll eventually, possibly soon, give and get in Yangon. I’ll have to say goodbye to the neighborhood kids. They’ve been my family. My students—they’ve taught me so much. And I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to look my principal in the eye when I leave. She’s been another mother to me.

I have to decide in the next few days what I’m doing next, but there’s still a lot of unknown surrounding all possibilities. Should I stay in Myanmar another year? Would I be able to mentally, physically, or financially make it?

Look people in the eye when you say goodbye. Make eye contact until the final moment. Feel uncomfortable and emotional in that hold. There’s a certain kind of bond, a wordless soul-to-soul connection that can seemingly only come through direct, intense last looks. Let them happen.


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