On Anniversaries and Goodbyes

I am a little out of inspiration and ideas, but I had to write today.

Three years ago this morning I stood in Birmingham airport and burst into tears. Ready to board the plane and say cheerio to my parents, it finally dawned on me that I was in fact moving to a new country, where I had no job or friends. I mean it wasn’t like anyone was making me, we’d been planning for months, but my mind had gently placed the notion in the recesses of my brain, focussing on one task at a time: handing in my notice, packing, moving back home, packing for the movers. Actually getting on the plane… hadn’t given it a second thought.

So, heading off to departures on a freezing January day, I had nothing in my head. Nothing but a hint of excitement buried under a bag of nerves. I had a Dan waiting, (for which I was and remain very grateful) a 20 k luggage allowance and some metaphorical baggage in the shape of stress, anxiety and severe eczema. Little did I know how wonderfully it would turn out. Little did I know that I’d look back on that day and see it as the best flight I ever took. (Which is saying a lot because we had to change planes when the first one’s de-icer broke!)

Heidelberg - the first year

Three years ago, of course, I didn’t see it with such clarity: I saw a beautiful town coated in ice, too cold to enjoy; I saw a flat with potential and no furniture; I mixed with people, friendships already solidified, no room for one more; I had optimism and pessimism in equal measures, combined with a  sheer determination to use the 20 German words I’d learned before I left, and not a lot else.

But what a three years it has been in the town with the castle on the hill…

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I miss my family, of course. I miss red Leicester on toast and pork pie. I miss friends whose birthday parties I can’t attend. But, goodness, am I glad I got on that plane: my hands aren’t like old witches hands, scaly and dry any more; I have a job I love and that I didn’t have to leave teaching to get; I’ve made some wonderful friends who have been my local family. Today I count my luck stars, thanking them again and again.

But today is tinged strongly with sadness. Three years in one place, at least one emotional goodbye for each year. Yesterday, some of the best friends I’ve ever had, having handed us the last of their leftovers – a Christmas tree included, said goodbye for a while. Said goodbye and left Heidelberg for the other side of the world, putting 16,000 km between us.

People keep telling me how it is a normal part of living abroad in a temporary way. I know that. But it is still incredibly hard. Because it’s clear to me, right now, that life is so much about the who and the why and not the where, when or what.  Wherever you find yourself in life, having good friends is priceless.  The reasons I moved – for my now husband and for the change I so desperately needed, along with those friends I made, matter the most.

Friends are there when your family can’t be.  Friends share jokes and sadness, successes and challenges. Friends know the you of today, the one shaped by this new place, the new environment. My friends, especially those recently gone, have propped me up more than they probably realise. You can be anywhere, doing anything, and the right friends make it all right.

And so, I am celebrating my three year Heidelberg anniversary with a heavy heart. I suspect there will be many more goodbyes and some hellos. I suspect I’ll go home and cry after a farewell again before long. But I’ll cherish how lucky I am, knowing there is a cup of tea for me in many corners of the Earth.

Here’s to another year in HD- thanks for the memories. A bigger thank you to the people who made them.

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