Time is the oldest and most basic of social constructions that we have as humans, yet it never ceases to amaze me. The way it bends and buckles, the way it stretches and drags like an old-fashioned taffy pull one minute and then, the next minute, rushes past at dizzying speeds leaving only the bittersweet taste of nostalgia in its wake. It’s astonishing, the mysterious nature of time, but also equally astonishing is the power that it has over us as people. We have based our entire way of life around time. How much of it we have, how to get more of it, how we can spend it and save it. For us, time is equally precious as it is tortuous, but how absurdly irrational is that?
When we are waiting for something, we wish time away and stare at the clock with frustration as each tick of the hand seems to take longer than the last. But, adversely, when we are enjoying ourselves or doing something significant with our lives, whether it be spending time with loved ones or traveling to exciting new places, we want more and more time. We harvest a reverent hatred for the power that time has to rush us by, to age us and, eventually, to bring an end to our existence on this planet.
During these, my last few precious weeks in Chile before I will return the United States, I have caught myself getting frustrated with time. I have caught myself growing anxious about the dwindling amount of it that I have left in this beautiful country and cursing it for not being on my side. But, in reality, I know that time doesn’t take sides. It doesn’t bend or buckle, stretch or accelerate. No matter how much we wish it away or beg for more, time remains constant and unrelenting throughout the best and worst moments of our lives. What does change, however; are the ways in which we perceive time and in that respect, we can regain some control amidst the vast powerlessness. We can decide that we are not going to let life pass us by without our knowing. We can be present in each moment and appreciate it for the gift that it is. The times that I have had here in Chile have been some of the best in my life so far, so I know that it would be silly to mourn the coming end. My time here didn’t pass me by or slip away, I lived every second and every minute of it and I will continue to live every second of every day that I have left on this planet with the fervor for life that my experiences over these past six months have given me. Above all else, that is what I have learned from my study abroad experience and I will strive never to forget the importance of that lesson.
With that being said, it was certainly difficult (impossible, really) not to mourn the goodbyes. The hardest part, by far, about living abroad was having to leave behind the familiar faces and the life that I had made for myself in Chile. I truly don’t think that anything could have prepared me for the deep sense of heartbreak that I felt as my bus pulled out of the terminal in Vina del Mar and over the course of the preceding days when, one by one, I was forced to say goodbye to everyone that I have come to love here. I can’t seem to figure out a way to describe the sense of loss that I feel without relying on terribly cliché statements that probably wouldn’t hold much weight for anyone who hasn’t been in a similar situation. As I left for the Santiago airport to start my 13-hour journey to the U.S., I truly felt like I was leaving a piece of myself behind there, with all of my Chilean friends and family who have shown me an unimaginable amount of love and support over this past semester. But even in this heavy pain and this terrifying uncertainty of when I will be able to come back and see them again, I also feel a sense of tranquility in the realization of how serendipitous it is to be able to have these emotions about leaving a foreign country.
If you scroll back through a few of my blog posts, you can read about how nervous I was, upon arriving in Chile, that my Spanish-speaking ability and cultural differences would prohibit me from being able to establish deeper relationships with Chileans. I talked about how important it was to me that I would be able to reach that level of social immersion instead of remaining a foreigner, an outsider looking in. And now, looking back on this in the context of the current heartbreak I am experiencing, I realize how lucky I am to be heartbroken. Because it means that I reached that level and surpassed it. I made lifelong friends that I will never forget about and will never stop missing. I loved and was loved and am still being loved, from a distance, by the best group of Chilean friends that I could have possibly hoped for. They are passionate and kind and brave and each one of them has carefully sewn their influence onto the patchwork of my humanity so that they will always be a part of who I am. I know that I will go back to Chile one day in the (hopefully near) future, but until then I will cherish everything that my experiences there have given me. Hasta pronto apañadores.