When I was fourteen, I went with a group of American kids to Nicaragua. We visited a children’s home for a week, helping take care of the younger kids while making friends with the kids our age. My closest friend there was a boy named Giovanni. I don’t remember his last name, life story or circumstances–some of the kids there had no family, others had families who they visited and were very close to, but who did not have the means to take care of them at home. I can say without a doubt that Giovanni’s life was incredibly different from mine. But we both liked soccer, and I always loved getting out on the field and playing with the guys, even though (or maybe especially because) they were better. So we played soccer and communicated the best we could given my broken, beginner Spanish. I remember vividly sitting in a Catholic church service, not really understanding what the priest and nuns were saying, but at one point they had us all get up and do a dance. After a couple steps we would spin around. I had to sit with the gringos I went on the trip with, but Giovanni was across the sanctuary from me and in between spins we caught each other’s eye and smiled.
Giovanni is next to me in the yellow. Rivas, Nicaragua, 2009
At the end of the week, we exchanged letters. I would give so much to find that letter and read it again. And though we had good intentions to keep in touch, there didn’t seem to be a mailing address to send anything to, and we never spoke again.
It’s funny how people come in and out of our lives. Especially when you’re a kid and especially when you’re traveling, it’s so easy to become close to someone. The real world and all the things that distract us and prevent us from making real connections, they all fall away. And you may know you only have a week or even a day to spend with someone, but it doesn’t prevent you from connecting with them the way it might if it were your everyday life. Whether you share stories or a soccer game, that person impacts you in such a way that (in this case anyway) seven years pass and you still remember the way their eyes twinkle when they smile.
But with those brief, often powerful connections come a lot of goodbyes. It’s just not always possible to stay in touch. Maybe more and more these days as technology is more widespread and communication is easier than ever. But typically I’ve found that you go back home and go back to your everyday routines, and the memories fray and the colors fade and it goes to the back of your mind. You have to think hard to remember the details of even the most vivid moments. And for a little while it kind of breaks your heart to say goodbye, but then even that fades out into the background.
I’ve had a couple experiences recently of becoming close to someone with whom I knew there was an absolute and very near time limit. A different-hemispheres-possibly-forever type time limit. So then what? Is it easier not to invest in those friendships? Why become close to someone you’ll probably never see again? I’ve realized it’s worth it every single time. I believe that making the most of what you have while you have it is one of the most worthwhile ways to live your life. The inherent value of the connection doesn’t end just because the friendship might have to. Goodbyes suck, hands down, but a shitty, hard goodbye is proof that it was worth having someone in your life while you could have them, even if it was just for a little while.