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Attending to Transitions – Saying Goodbye with Awareness and Appreciation

I just departed Nepal. I’ve been there enough times now (six) that it’s becoming somewhat of a second home for me. My time of course is largely spent with Nepal Orphans Home where I assist in whatever ways that I can. I teach classes at times, organize and present workshops for the older kids as they transition to adulthood, and work with staff in ways that are hopefully helpful. Mostly, though, I simply try my best to be an encouraging, loving presence. It’s a happy place really, one which has developed into a very supportive environment for the children who have come to live there. Over the years, I have witnessed many of the children become not-quite children any longer, as they transition into more independent living, college/employment and their adulthood. It’s lovely to witness yet full of challenges which one might expect.

I fell a bit ill over the last week of my time there, gathering up a respiratory infection, a not uncommon affliction in Kathmandu given the dusty, somewhat polluted atmosphere. Even in the summer monsoon season with generous rains clearing the skies most days, the air can still be challenging, and my lungs seem to be the first to rail in protest. My health came together though on the last day of my stay which allowed for a truly sublime transition day. With an ever-deepening understanding that life is all-too short and time is a limited and precious commodity, I’ve learned the value of attending to transitions. We never know when or if we may ever see a place or a dear friend or loved one again, so parting truly can be “such sweet sorrow.” My final day was infused with an awareness, a sweetness rooted in appreciation of that which simply was. Although it was a day largely filled with the running of errands and tying up of loose ends, it had the flavor at times of a slow-motion parade of vignettes, a visual panoply of appreciation: a fruit vendor being handed a papaya for weighing; a black dog fearlessly inserting itself into traffic as it crossed the street; a man with sweat stained shirt pushing his bicycle cart burdened with vast lengths of thick PVC pipe taking a break in traffic to wipe dots of sweat from his brow; a cow fully relaxed in the sun in the middle of one of the busier streets in Kathmandu with motorcycles veering to either side; my barber laughing at me in the mirror upon my directive to simply “make me look handsome;” Shalooni’s smile over the wall when we touched hands goodbye at the orphanage and she playfully wouldn’t let go; seeing Jashmina’s hand tenderly wrapped around Sumi’s opposite shoulder as a few of us took a lengthy late evening stroll through the neighborhood; feeling my embodied presence as Prashanna and I spoke philosophically of the difference between switching off the mind and more simply shifting to an awareness of one’s mind and presence.

As a final transition, I took a late night break from packing, brought a guitar up to the roof and serenaded to the vast expanse of Kathmandu. It felt truly like singing to a lover, imbued with deep appreciation. Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting Here in Limbo waiting for the tide to flow, sitting here in limbo knowing that I have to go;” Dylan’s “May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung, may you stay Forever Young” sung as a prayer for the children of NOH; and from a song learned from Nina Simone “There’s a few more lonesome cities that I’d like to see, while the wine of wanderlust is still inside of me.” A misting of rain arrived, but Kali gratefully held back the heavy drops until the final verse of one of my favorite songs which expresses the appreciation of the ephemerality of a goodbye:

“For all we know, we may never meet again,
Before we go, make this moment sweet again,
We won’t say goodnight until the last minute,
I’ll hold out my hand and my heart will be in it.

For all we know, this may only be a dream,
We come and go, like the ripples of a stream,
Tomorrow was meant for some
But tomorrow may never come,
For all we know.”

Singing was my way of taking the time to embody the expression of goodbye, of thank you to this place that has become such an important part of my life.

I am remembering from 20 years ago my still dear friend Michele suggesting that we stop after a long sunset walk for a “Transitional Closure Moment” before returning to our car. It was a moment and a lesson that has stayed with me ever since. Some experiences are simply too lovely, too beautiful, too valued to simply turn away from them without taking some time to give them their due reverence. When we truly say goodbye with awareness and appreciation of all that is and has been, we are free to go, to move on to whatever may be next. When my love relationship with Alexandra came to an end earlier this year, we created our own “uncoupling” ceremony where we spoke of what had occurred between us, what we truly appreciated about the other, and we also each expressed an allowance for the other to go. We closed by tearily mutually blowing out a candle flame. I’d be lying if I said I no longer experienced sadness and disappointment from the end of that important relationship, but in consciously and lovingly attending to our transition, we were able to come together in healing for a sense of closure and appreciation.

Perhaps, given some deep early childhood wounding from abrupt endings, I may be more sensitive to the value of more conscious transitions. In many ways, all of this talk of attending to transitions is simply preparation for major transitions in life including perhaps most importantly the end of our own lives. The more we practice attending to the transitions in our lives, the more capable we will hopefully be of bringing an awareness, presence and appreciation to our final bow.

And so I’m off now on another adventure before heading homeward – a journey to Belarus, the land of my paternal grandmother. It’s a place I’ve wanted to explore for several years now and I’m blessed to have the time, freedom and opportunity to go there. My hope is to spend some time simply getting a vibe of the place – a better understanding of my people, my history and ultimately I suppose myself. In terms of transitions, I’m first taking a few days in Warsaw as a more neutral place to create a gap of decompressing and preparatory space between these two important worlds. Some breathing room to more fully digest my time in Nepal before diving in to another potentially impactful experience.


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