Belfast Goodbyes: Friends
I sat with five people tonight, on wooden benches outside my favorite Belfast pub. It was my going away gathering featuring a few of my favorite humans here, following an afternoon spent wandering Queen’s campus and the Botanic Gardens with another of my favorite Belfast humans. All socially distanced, all with my mask firmly covering my nose and mouth. For those who don’t know how I’ve handled the last year: This is more friend interaction than I’ve had in months.
See, when you’re the only living child your parents have left, you take your aliveness very seriously. And when a pandemic hits and you can keep yourself safe - for you and for them - by staying inside and alone, you stay inside and alone.
I’m endlessly grateful for my Belfast community and their support through all of it: surprise plants in smiley faced ceramic pots; endless socialization offers, no matter how many I turned down; surprise boxes containing natural relaxation and sleep aids; grocery trips; empathetic and teary eyes peering over masks; video calls; checking-in texts; reminders of pre-pandemic inside jokes; swapping of dissertation drafts. Each priceless, each memorable, each so incredibly loving.
Tonight, we sat together and we talked and we laughed so very, very much. There was one particular moment that broke me, though, one particular moment that captured exactly why I will miss this place and these people so much that it physically hurts to write this.
Five voices were shouting over one another about The Chase game show. Laughter punctuated these voices, with multiple bodies in various states of standing for emphasis. Partially filled bottles lined the areas beside each of us, with a communal garbage box on the cobblestones in the center. In that particular moment, with all of our eyes bright and our vocal cords working overtime, nothing else mattered. The night’s increasingly chilly weather was forgotten. The masks on our faces were forgotten. Work visa concerns, my flight next week, upcoming job interviews, the safety of our other loved ones, the pandemic - it was all forgotten.
To me, that’s the power of Belfast and of this entire island. This place is transportive. If you are in a moment, you are so fully in it that you are transported to a space where it is all that matters. Somehow, without fail, you’re transported out of your various other realities and the only reality you’re concerned with is the one you are currently experiencing.
When answering questions posed by potential international QUB students, there’ve been multiple times where I’ve noted that if someone is talking about work in a crowded Belfast pub, they are most likely American. It’s proved true time and time again. I don’t come from a place whose culture encourages in-the-moment joy that can transport you. I come from the land of inheriting long-term worry and driving yourself to the emergency room and sustaining state’s rights at the cost of people’s lives.
The people on this island taught me how to let myself be transported. How to love so deeply and explore so freely that such transportation is commonplace.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned through all of my travels and moves, it’s that having people you love enough to miss is a gift. Until now, however, the transition from being around those people to being far away from those people has included tearful goodbye hugs with faces pressed into shoulders, large goodbye gatherings offering one last chance for in-person memory making, help with packing and/or cleaning - all of these rituals which mark such massive transitions. This time, I don’t get those. I know that will prove challenging as I try to adjust back to life in the US, back to life in Missouri. I also know that nothing I can safely do in the next six days can give me that same closure.
But, thank god, I had tonight. I had that moment, and I have those people, and I have this island’s many lessons. And thankfully, none of those will take up space in my already-at-capacity suitcases.