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The Goodbye Post from Lenny

Hi all,

I am Lenny, TBC’s marketing intern since this past June, and today is the last day of my internship with TBC. I want to take this opportunity to talk about something a little personal today, something that I’ve had a complicated history with and still struggle with from time to time. Today I want to talk about goodbyes.

I have been contemplating this post for a while now. Back in December, I started asking alumni of TBC to write about what it felt like when they left China. For a lot of people that I reached out to, they thought this was a great idea and were happy to contribute, but when it came to actually putting it into words, many told me that they found it hard to capture how they felt. To be honest, I’m kind of feeling the same thing. For me, there are so many things that make goodbyes terrifying to think about, I shudder at the mention of it. You’d think seven semesters at TBC, having to say goodbye to my closest friends periodically every four months would have insulated me against the pain of goodbyes, but no, and every single goodbye has left me an emotional train wreck. I’ve wondered, to the bottom of my heart, to the depth of my soul, what exactly it is about goodbyes that I’m so afraid of, and this blog will be a manifestation of the stream of consciousness that came about.

I celebrated my 18th birthday with the TBC 2016 Spring cohort. Moments after this picture was taken, I accidentally attempted to eat a candle.

Goodbyes are scary because they mean loss of friends. Loss is probably a dramatic way of putting it, but in reality, there really is no way of sugarcoating this. You can promise each other how often you’ll text and call, but it’ll last no more than three weeks, after which you will have fewer and fewer reasons to talk to each other until you almost never do. Thankfully, there are friendships that do not require uninterrupted communication to sustain. Brian and I almost never text each other anymore but I have no doubt he still loves even though he’ll never admit it, and I’m confident whenever I call Roni it be two hours later before either of us hangs up goes back into our worlds. However, one thing I can’t deny is that I knew for a fact, that after saying goodbye, I would not be able to just to walk into Brian’s room and record a video of him doing push-ups, nor can I just WeChat Roni to come sit on my bed as we watch another absurdist Taiwanese movie; I won’t be able to walk into the lounge and expect to see another lover’s spat between Josh and Tim, nor will I find Rachall in front of the TV writing the paper she procrastinated to write at 3 am. From the point we say goodbye, till when we see each other again, if we see each other again, I won’t be able to have these people in my life the same way they had been for months, and that deeply saddens me.

Sorry, Tim, but this picture of Ryan and Josh is the most beautiful picture of Fall 2016 and it just needs to be seen by more people.

Goodbyes are also hard because they often come at a turning point in life, and you’ll have part with a piece of yourself. Nearing the end of the summer, as Roni was getting ready to leave Beijing, she told me she was confident that we’d meet again, to which I replied: “yeah, but it won’t be the same Lenny and Roni anymore”. It’d be at least two years before we see each other again, and in two years, I don’t know what priorities I would have then or what kind of person I was going to become. In the same way, saying goodbye forces me to look back on the time that has been, and think about whether or not I could have done better. Should I have been more social this past semester? Should I have stayed in my room less? I wish I could have gotten to know that person more, and now I’ll never get the chance; I wish I had been there for that weekend excursion – people looked like they had fun. Goodbyes cut you off for breathing room and make you confront what you have or haven’t done with the people that you now don’t know when you’ll ever see again, and that is terrifying.

I’m right there with you, Neil. Where did all the time go? Spring 2017 seems like yesterday.

Lastly, goodbyes are hard because they force you to step out of the comfy little bubble you created with each other over the time you spent together, look ahead and move on with your life. Friendships are like little worlds people construct, they start slowly, gather weight, and eventually you have an alternate universe at your command. When you say goodbye to a friend, it’s like the sun (stars to be astronomically precise) has left your little universe and it all goes pitch dark as everything begins to decay, and now you have to leave that universe behind and find yourself a new home. Building new things is always hard, and in the wake of everything you become more afraid and insecure. What if I don’t like what happens next? What if this is the best group of friends I’m ever going to meet and I’m losing them? Where am I headed after this? Saying goodbye weighs the uncertainty of the future on your shoulder in your most vulnerable moment, and that can feel devastating. 

I debated the selection of this photo a lot but ultimately decided that the behind of Brian “Freight Train” Vollert is the most iconic image of Fall 2017 and deserves the recognition.

Goodbye is like going down a rapid river on a raft with your eyes blindfolded (hehe) – you never know when the current will hit you. It can be when you realize as you stand in line for jianbing that it will be probably the last jianbing you’ll have in the foreseeable future (or in my case when I left Chicago, the last Chipotle burrito bowl); it can be the morning when you move out and you realize it’s the last time you will be brushing your teeth in front of that sink which always leaks; it can be after Maria got on the bus and you could see her yelling goodbye at you but you couldn’t hear, and you realized that you don’t know when you’ll ever hear her slow soft voice in person again; or it can be when the bus leaves and from the window you see Ryan Shannon waving at you as you realize how much you are going to miss that smile. Or, alternatively, when you oversleep and wake up to the fact that you didn’t get to say goodbye at all, yes, Reed, I’m looking at you.

Over the years it has become apparent that I am terrible at goodbyes. The tiniest detail can trigger an overflow of emotional response and paralyzes me at least two weeks following a major goodbye. After my first semester being a CR, when I said to Tobar, who was arguably the sweetest person on earth at the airport, in uncontrollable sadness I started googling how to deal with goodbyes. The great and almighty Internet offered a good number of tips, none of which worked, and I was simply left with my own devices, which entails a lot of random waves emotional distress in the middle of the day and cringy Facebook posts and Instagram PMs in the middle of the night, until I get better. Wash, rinse and repeat.

My fifth time on the Great Wall and first time able to actually take good pictures with Fall 2018. The trick? Take the cable car up so you aren’t sweating your life out in every pic.

However, somewhere in the middle of these sentimental disarrays I found one thing certain that lends me comfort. Actually this might be obvious, but the one thing that completely changed the way I view goodbyes is that, however personal, pervasive and permanent the feelings I get swarmed by threaten to be, they always come to pass. In three weeks’ time I will have cried all the drama out of me and returned to being a functioning human again. Therefore, I realized that it is okay to be sad, and I even went a step beyond that, I started celebrating how sad I get. Because really, what makes a better validation of the things I did, the connections I made and the little universes I constructed with the people I love than how sad I get at the thought of losing them? Tragedy is the destruction of something beautiful. Along with being sad, I also get to be happy about the fact that I created something beautiful.

Now, because of this realization, at the beginning of every semester, or every chapter of my life, really, I’ve set myself a really peculiar goal – I aspire to cry my eyes out by the time it ends and when I have to say goodbye. I want to create an experience so unique, an universe so exquisite that I want myself to feel excruciating pain when I have to leave it behind, and then I’ll shake it off, get up and get ready to do it again.

This is a very mediocre picture of both of us. But it’ll do the job.

I’m proud to say that interning at TBC has been such an experience. Today is my last day, and I feel immense sadness that I won’t be working in the office anymore after today, and at the same time, the magnitude of this sadness is the best reminder of how amazing this experience has been. I want to say thank you to everyone in the office for being part of this experience and part of my life, most of all my direct supervisor John. John, you are reading this before it gets published, and I want you to be the first to know I thankful I am for you. You have been the best supervisor I could have ever hoped for. Over the past seven months you have put up with so much of my inadequacies and taught me more than I could have ever hoped to learn. Thank you for not only being my supervisor, but also my friend.

Okay, I’ve made it sound like this is goodbye forever when I’ll probably still see everyone on a daily basis, but that is exactly how you live your life – boldly, unapologetically and ritualistically. Life is nothing but a string of routine events illustrated by very few truly important turning points, and the best way to live it is to feel, brave and unafraid, everything it throws your way, even the sad parts, knowing it will eventually be over.

Also, before I started writing this post, I asked a few TBC alumni to write down how they felt when they said goodbye to TBC. I wanted to work these responses organically into the article at first, but it didn’t work. So here I’ll just share the responses that I got:

“In my last few days at TBC, I was numb to all that was happening. I didn’t feel sad, I didn’t feel like I was going home, and I sure didn’t feel like I wasn’t going to see these best friends that I had made. When I stepped foot on that plane, it became real. I had a sinking feeling, like a heavy weight was tethered to my chest. I would never have an experience like that again. These new best friends that I have all go to school all around the world, and although I know and hope our paths will cross again sometime, nothing can take away the experience we had together on our journey with TBC.” – Brian Vollert

“The days before leaving TBC were slow and sad. I knew my life in America was easier than for most, but I realized more than ever how excruciatingly boring it would be to live in familiar surroundings again. I wish I could go back to those last days and soak in old and new parts of China, as well as all the people I miss.” – Zach Fetcher

“I was the very last person to leave TBC from our program and it was a very emotional experience for me. I waited in the office for a while until my brother arrived in China and I kept trying to distract myself because every time I thought too hard about TBC and all the experiences it brought me I would start to cry. I would finally pull myself together and then immediately start crying again. Before coming to China, I studied for a semester in italy as well and the program was not supportive and I had a really hard time there. TBC was like a breath of fresh air, because every single staff member cared about the students and really tried to give us an authentic experience. It surpassed all of my expectations and I will remember it forever.” – Cailin Touseull

A heartfelt thank you to everyone. This is goodbye.