I’ve never been very good at goodbyes. I don’t get overly attached to many people, but on the occasion that I do, I’m an emotional mess when leaving them. (At least inwardly, even if not outwardly). I felt like a fool at my LAX gate when I flew back to Ohio from LA this summer, sniffling and blinking back tears while waiting to board my flight. I told myself I wouldn’t cry, and it was more the strange expressions of the couple sitting across from me at the gate that held back my waterworks more than anything else. Why did I feel like crying? There was something twisting around inside the cavity in my chest that was confusing me, until suddenly it sorted itself out and I had to quickly pull out my phone to makes notes about it.
A few days before I left LA, my housemate Hannah (who was also one of my summer coworkers) said that she wanted to come with me to the airport so that my send off wouldn’t be alone. For as much as I love to travel, airports make me pretty anxious and I felt so relieved that I would have her company on the way there. I had been planning to take the Flyaway shuttle, but about an hour before I needed to leave, one of my coworkers, Valeria, told me that her mom was offering to drive me all the way to the airport instead. It’s at least a 45 minute drive one way, and I knew her family was leaving the next morning for their own trip. But it was an incredibly kind gesture for her mom to make. Almost all of my coworkers were able to stop by the house to say goodbye, and then Valeria, Hannah, and I left with Valeria’s mom and brother to head to the airport. I thought they would just drop me off at departures, but they instead parked the car, helped me with luggage, and stayed with me until I was at security, waving to them as I stepped into the security line, tossing my shoes and backpack into the gray tub. It wasn’t until I was waiting to board my flight that I realized I hadn’t felt anxious at all. I couldn’t have possibly hoped for a better send off.
So there I was at the gate, willing myself not to cry and realizing at the same time that I was crying because I felt completely overwhelmed with love and gratitude. Maybe that feeling had been building up slowly all summer and I hadn’t noticed until that moment, when the adrenaline and excitement was gone and I was finally alone in a room of other traveling strangers.
It was a wonderful summer. I loved working with the youth groups that came from all over the country to serve and learn about LA. I loved spending time with mentors and friends I had made during my previous DOOR service year, especially my neighborhood kiddos. I was able to cross a few more things off my LA to-do bucket list, and of course I loved the sunshine. But most of all, I loved the time I spent with my coworkers, both at and outside of work. The 9 of us bonded more quickly than I expected, almost as if I didn’t have a choice but to let them into my heart right away and it shocked me.
As the summer wore on, I felt myself relaxing even more into the comfortable familiarity we were developing. I tend to be pretty cynical about friendships that develop too fast and too soon, but something felt different, and I couldn’t make it fit into any category that I tried to create. I think we all just simply cared about each other, and were intentional about showing it. There were no ulterior motives.
I was at the Santa Monica promenade with some of them a few days before I left and we were meandering in and out of shops. At one point, I stood in front of a full body mirror to glance quickly at my appearance, and felt slightly embarrassed when one of my coworkers noticed, and stood behind me. “Don’t worry,” he said with a reassuring smile. “You look good.” He has the habit of regularly complimenting his friends, often in endearingly specific ways. I consider myself to have pretty healthy self-esteem, but it’s not unshakable, and his simple validation was profound, soothing something inside me, making me feel recognized and valued. There were so many moments like this, brief encounters and conversations with my coworkers throughout the summer that handed me pieces of myself I hadn’t even realized I was missing.
In the end, it really was all the little things combined that created what I felt; the meals we made and shared together, the endless hugs, impromptu plans, time just hanging out. Singing together, dancing together, playing games.
I wonder, if I would tell each of them individually exactly what it was about them that filled me with so much gratitude, if they would feel surprised by those reasons. Perhaps they don’t even think about it. I wonder too sometimes if there are simple things I do without thinking, that make others feel loved and supported. In a world so laser-focused on grandeur and performance, I feel in contrast more responsive to the tiny, sometimes nearly imperceptible day to day gestures. A hug that has perfect timing. A shared joke that really isn’t all that funny, but makes my stomach hurt from laughing. An offer to help me with a task I could do on my own, but wouldn’t have to. These all add up, ending in the sort of compilation that makes me cry in airports, feeling so grateful. Feeling so cherished. And wanting more than anything to make others feel the same way.
I’ve found innocent love to be so powerful, the simplistic purity of caring about other people because they exist. Wanting others to feel welcomed and to feel secure in knowing that they have a place wherever they go. It’s a beautiful thing to ponder but it’s even more beautiful when given and received in turn.
Maybe everything about this summer was just the fortune of being surrounded by the right people at the right time. But I’d like to think that it was a little bit more than that, very sincere and significant in ways that will contribute to my learning and growing about love and the ways it can best blossom in my life and in the lives of the people I encounter along the way.
Know, and be known. Love, and be loved.