Saturday, July 17, 2021

Leaving: A Bittersweet Affair

By Madeleine Kando

Leaving has played a constant role in my life. I got my first taste of leaving when I was four, when my parents left Hungary, the country where I was born, to settle in Paris.

Back then, I already considered leaving a place as something positive, like a soldier who adds stars to his uniform. The more places you leave, the higher you rise in the ranks. It was exciting and my age safeguarded me from seeing the risks that are always attached to leaving the familiar.

In a poem ‘le Rondel de l’adieu’, French poet Edmond Haraucourt writes the famous phrase ‘partir c’est mourir un peu’ (leaving is dying a little). It best describes the true meaning of farewell. Each time we say farewell, it is as if we die a little.

For me, even leaving on vacation feels a bit like dying. My old self is dying to make room for my new, yet undiscovered self. The thought of going shopping for a new self always brings a smile to my face, even at my age.

After moving from Hungary to France in my toddler years and from France to Holland when I was 11, I gave a much-needed new self another go when I turned 18. I lived in England for a while and I liked my new English self a lot, but like a run-away train, I couldn’t stop. Off to Spain I went.


The Mediterranean Madeleine didn’t appeal to me all that much, since I couldn’t really chop off some of my height, so my Spanish self never really took shape..

So, you see, I already had a lot of practice leaving. But compared to my previous little hops from one European country to another, moving to the New World felt like jumping off a high cliff, not knowing whether I would land on my two feet or my derriere.

The world is a small place for those who do not travel. It is safe. In the story of Flatland, the two-dimensional Flatlanders have nothing frighteningly big and three-dimensional to compare themselves to. Hence, they feel important. Although I probably would have morphed into a three dimensional being even without emigrating, by maturing, traveling and growing wiser,

I still think that leaving all these places, including emigrating to America, helped the transformation. Luckily, my parachute opened and I landed safely. I spent the next few decades crafting an entirely new self and am fairly pleased with the result. It was not love at first sight mind you, but I grew to like and even love America.

Still, since I settled here, I have been trying to bridge the gap between two continents, like a giant standing on two floating icebergs in the middle of the Atlantic. The great leap did not prevent me leaving part of me behind, even after all these years.

The Europe I left is the Europe of my youth, not the real Europe. It is like a daughter's relationship to her mother and as we all know, a mother/daughter relationship is very complex. It both contains love, hate and also competition.

It is important, especially now, to convince myself that my decision to move here was the right one. The immigrant in me thinks that I did something significant, that I was the seed bearer of a strong new shoot in a vast, beautiful, unkempt garden.

But America is no longer the country I came to, a long long time ago. My new found lover has not kept his word, he is no longer taking care of me. America has given me many things, the need to be strong so I could survive, to be creative and inventive so I could fulfill myself. It has always given me the freedom that Europe never offered. But it gets harder and harder to stay in love with such a dysfunctional lover.

On the one hand, being an immigrant made me aware of how small and unimportant I am. After all, we all turn to dust, become food for the worms, immigrant or a Flatlander alike. On the other hand, it made me resilient and I am proud that I started out in the new world with just one suitcase and a few hundred dollars in my pocket and survived to write about it. And I had the most valuable asset one can have as an immigrant: I was young.

I hope my American children and grandchildren will one day again be proud of this country, like I was a long time ago and hope to be again… one day. leave comment here