The German expression auf Wiedersehen seems less final than goodbye in English which implies forever or farewell. The German appears hopeful and means until we see one another again. At the conclusion of both Fulbright experiences in Germany, the Director of the American Unit said to me “until next time” which caused me to wonder if there would be a next time. Now I understand it better. I didn’t think there would be a next time as I left to return to the US, but until next time turned out for me to mean until his daughter came to the US and stayed with us briefly during her exchange year. Next time can be the next email exchange or phone call. It is a more pleasant manner of leave-taking which is often bittersweet.
As an educator, I annually offer a handshake or hug to my graduating seniors who are mostly leaving me for college. It has happened that I have shed a tear or two, sometimes out of sheer happiness and sometimes because I may never see this student again. Often I have been fortunate enough to have taught some students for four or more years. While I request that students keep in touch after they leave me, some do, and others do not. These are moments tinged with sadness.
Recently a former student met me before leaving to study in Germany. We spoke about living abroad, and I saw an excited and hopeful young man off on the adventure of a lifetime. My students hear the advice in their senior year to continue German in college and perhaps major or minor in it and to someday live and study in Germany. Now this young man is taking a leap of faith and living the dream of studying in Germany. I can only imagine my parents as they saw me off at the airport for what was to have been one year abroad in Germany and turned into three.
I composed a short poem about leave-taking this week:
Sometimes words are unnecessary.
Goodbyes are but temporary:
outstretched hugging arms, smiles,
pats on backs suffice. A silent tear.
Hopes and fears merge.