• Claire Villarreal, PhD

Stages of leaving

"I may be gone before your test results come in."  I'm not terminally ill, but I had that thought earlier this fall when my partner mentioned that some test results should get in within two weeks. I split my time between Texas and Quebec, and it's a little like moving between two alternate universes (everything is hot! now everything is cold! people speak French! no they don't!).  The upside and the downside of flipping back and forth between my two worlds is that I get to practice leaving over and over again, and I try to use each time as an opportunity to prepare to die. My kung fu teacher (Steve Cottrell of Authentic Kung Fu) said once that preparing to go on a long trip was like preparing to die, and ever since then I've tried to put that into practice.  A couple of years ago, I fell in love with a man from Quebec and have been visiting him since summer 2017, and I went nomadic in summer of 2018 (i.e., giving up my condo in Houston, on the road for work or living with my sister's family when I'm in Texas). I've been getting a crash course in transitions at least every few months, and I've identified some stages of the leaving process:  About a week out: Last day to see my doctor and still have time to fill a prescription. Since all my medical care still happens in the US, I have to be sure to schedule any doctors' appointments early enough that the office can call in my prescription refills in time for them to be filled (even if the pharmacy has to get a medication in).  14 - 3 days: Last chance to order something from Amazon and have it arrive before I go. Depending on what I might order, whether I really want it to get in before I leave, and whether it's eligible for Prime, I need to get my final orders in anywhere from a couple of weeks in advance (critical item, non-Prime shipping) to a few days in advance (non-critical, Prime shipping). Optimally, I'd have time to test it out in case I want to return it, but at least it can come with me if it gets in before I leave.  3 - 1 day: Packing. The packing list sometimes starts when I get to wherever I'm going and notice that I have something there that I need in the other place, in which case I start the list so I don't forget months later to pack the item. Sometimes the list starts a few days before I leave. The list always includes my passport just in case I'd forget it otherwise. Then comes the packing: a few days in advance if I have a lot to take from one reality to the next, sometimes as late as the day before if there's less to fit in the suitcase. Before I leave the house, I always make one final passport, phone, and keys check. Or two. Or five.  2 hours: At the airport. As soon as I leave home, I've officially entered the bardo of travel. (Unfamiliar with the term "bardo"? Click here for more.) Whatever I have with me is all I get to take to the next reality, and if I left something behind… hopefully it wasn't mission critical. Everyone else at the airport is in the same basic position, leaving water, pocket knives, loved ones, etc. before they enter the TSA line that separates the outside world from the world of air travel. Once I get through the line, the hard part is finished. I've left, and now my job is just to show up at the right gates to get where I'm going.  0 hours: In the air. This is the deepest part of the bardo of air travel. My checked bag is in the cargo hold and may or may not ever come back to me. There's no connection with the outside world -- unless the flight has wifi that (a) actually works (b) for free, two conditions that rarely occur together. I have a few precious hours to see the world from a very different perspective, to reflect, maybe to read or listen to music or a podcast. It's at once the freest and the most "trapped" time in life, sitting squashed into an airplane seat but with no demands on my time.  Arriving. In a way, we're always arriving. But the moment when the plane's tires touch down, the moment I walk out of that liminal space with wings, the moment I go through customs or walk out the doors of the airport -- I can't miss the fact that I'm stepping into something new. The transition between worlds is complete… until the next time I leave.


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