When I boarded a plane to come study abroad, only good things lived in my mind – aside from a tiny nervous knot in my stomach, I had room exclusively for excitement and daydreaming. The day I arrived in Paris I knew, instinctively, that I had made the right choice: I felt exhilarated, the world seemed to conspire in my favor at every turn. Even the weather, notoriously hit-or-miss, welcomed me with a gorgeous day. The idea that pain could permeate into that feeling would have seemed ridiculous at the time, if it had even crossed my mind.
But pain did come indeed, in its classic dramatic fashion. The untimely loss of a loved one is never easy, but it is undeniably made worse by distance. Going through the stages of grief, I found them mixed with something I’d often heard associated with loss, but had never understood until now: guilt. Guilt because that distance which was making matters worse was elected – elected by me, for my own purposes. What did I give up in leaving home? A chance at a few more weeks together, one more trivia night where you yell the answers unwittingly instead of writing them down, a last night-long chat about how all those plans you had in your heart seemed to take up too much space so you could not wait to put them into motion? Above all, I found it ridiculous that someone with so much life could ever cease to be – to me, you seemed eternal. And I gave you up, for Paris?
That thought kept me up at night and zombified by day. It became an obsession, it was all-encompassing. Did I give you up? Did I make a mistake? There was no solace in what anyone said, and no happiness in coming back to Paris after saying goodbye. Only one thought eventually brought me peace, although it may sound like the most selfish one I’ve ever had:
You would have done the same.
You would have jumped on that plane to France, with a big bag packed at the last minute and a smile so huge it would have made your cheeks hurt. You would have shed a tear of joy when that plane took off, and I would have been so proud of you. Just like (I know it now) you were proud of me. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that if you could have brought me back with your mind, you wouldn’t have. You were excited and happy for me, and living this adventure vicariously through me. You lived your life so fully, so true to the ideal of filling the world with happiness – you wanted me here. I can’t believe I didn’t see that before.
Just as pain must come, pain must eventually go away, as life carries on whether we jump on the wagon or not. Today, I jump back on the wagon. Your memory is always with me, but never again in pain; always to remind me that the day I went away to chase after a dream was the day I, thankfully, became a little bit more like you. That day I made you – and myself – proud, by taking a huge step in pursuit of what I love. You are the last person who would ever reproach me that – your light shines too bright. I’m incredibly lucky that it shines on me, and luckier that you were there to see me take flight.