Tonight Arina and I walked home from Nevsky, side by side, the same way we had eight months earlier; only this time, no longer strangers but friends. As we walked, we talked about how quickly time has passed. I remember when I first arrived, exiting the airport and inhaling the warm Russian air. It smelled like garbage and Ukraine and adventure, and I remember wondering if this foreign land would ever feel familiar to me.
And familiar, it now is. Not in a, this-feels-like-home kind of way but in a, you’ve-become-a-part-of-me kind of way. And maybe that is even better. I drink tea and talk about the temperature in Celsius and see God in the everyday victories. I read Cyrillic (slowly and painfully), know what kind of milk to buy and what kind of cheese to avoid, and on some days, when I’m standing amidst the crowds in the metro or walking down a quiet street, I catch a brief glimpse of utter clarity and it all makes sense. It is in these moments I can appreciate the enourmous gift of this beautifully challenging experience.
Tomorrow is April 26th- exactly one month from my date of departure. If my grandpa were here, he’d say, “Where did it all go?” And tonight I think I’d say, “I know, right?”
I have mixed emotions when I hear my friends and family talk of their excitement surrounding my return. On one hand, I’m counting down with them. There have been nights when my heart has literally hurt because I missed everyone so much and I longed to be back with them. My journal keeps record of all of the things I can’t wait to do as soon as I get back. And still, there is another part of me that feels frustrated and bothered when we talk of how great it will be when I return. Arrivals rarely exist without departures, beginnings often follow endings, and goodbyes are ever present. It’s just all so bittersweet.
And here is the tension. I am ready to be with the people who know and love me. I’m ready to be with the people I know and love. I’m ready to belong again- to not feel like an outsider or a bother everywhere I go. I’m ready to know how to act and what to say and how to say it. But I’m not ready for it to all be over. I'm not ready to say goodbye. I’m not ready to trade a life I don’t know quite how to live in, for a life I don’t quite know what to do with. The past two years have been spent if not in Russia, than thinking about Russia or planning for Russia. And in one short month, I will inhale air that no longer smells like anything to me, step onto a plane, and it will all be over.
Does this sound overly dramatic? Maybe it is, it’s certainly possible. But when I’ve gone to sleep at night lately, these are the thoughts that have filled my mind. Change and I are learning to get along, but I’m not sure we’ll ever be best friends. Afterall, it’s hard to be best friends with someone who is consistently breaking and hurting you. Even if it is in the name of growth.