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Saying Sayonara Seasonally

So... I rinsed my coffee cup of its instant coffee crust one last time and it really seemed to stick that time. I scrubbed it and rubbed it and even though I couldn't see it any longer, I kept cleaning my mug. Eventually, I realized it has been sparkling clean for some time, but I rinsed it once again, just in case. I shuffled to the office, dropped off my mug in the communal coffee basket. Did it just touch a coffee stain at the bottom? Maybe I should rinse it again. Then I realized I was just procrastinating.

I grabbed Kilo's leash and led her to the uncomfortably loaded Toyota Matrix with the dinged door. I looked at the ding in the door as if there had been any changes in the last 3 years since I dinged it. I should get that fixed. Then I realized I was just procrastinating.

I looked over at the parked aircraft. I looked at the Ag-Cat. I realized 1297 photos couldn't possibly be enough. I needed one or two more. I took out my little false-polaroid. I snapped some photos of my favorite tails. Darn little Instax camera always seems to have overexposure issues. Why can't I turn the flash off? Then I realized I was just procrastinating.

I shuffled my feet. My boss came outside. His cousin was there. I shuffled again. I made jokes about being re-hired the next season. I smiled. We all smiled. We talked about bugs. Future bugs. More spraying. Of course there will be bugs in the future. Lucan isn't so far away. The next season is just a blink away. Of course. Then we got quiet. It was time.

I went for a handshake but got hugs instead. I am glad I did because it is a rare moment that I just don't know what to say, because the next natural utterance is one of the few words I hate; goodbye.

Since the beginning of my career in aviation, it has punctuated many of the chapters of my life. Like a blunted sentence, ended prematurely with a staccato of a period before the thought could be completed; the word goodbye haunts my life story like a horror movie villain waiting to cut my experiences short.

When I accepted my first position as flight attendant of our largest regional airline, I kissed my parents goodbye and took off to my new assigned home of Vancouver, BC. Seven months later, receiving an unexpected layoff, I said it again to my budding group of Vancouverite friends and aviation mentors. Five months after that layoff mitigation, I uttered the hated word to the family that took me in my new base of Toronto after yet another furlough.

I found solace in my third province that year. In Alberta, I found some form of stability that allowed me to say hello a thousand times over; I welcomed the new experience of flight training, I greeted a new social circle, I saluted a new romantic relationship, I hailed new goals, I warmly received a new career path... the beginnings felt unlimited.

However, when the time came, the goodbyes were almost traumatic. The time came to pursue my flying career in the flight deck, and that meant bidding farewell to the airline that had given me my first exposure to the industry. This career change meant relocating once again, which required me to say adieu to my expanded support network in the Calgary area. The emotional stress of geographic distance and new ambitions taxing my romantic relationship until it collapsed. Goodbyes drained me dry.

Now, years have come and gone since then.

I have a better understanding of the ebbs and flows of life these days. You plant a seed, it sprouts, grows, buds, flowers, and then bears seeds. Though the plant may die, the one seedling will have grown to provide many more seeds from the one from which it came. Those seeds can be planted in turn, for more seedlings, growing into more plants, which will continue to propagate. The relationships we build, the experiences we live, are the seeds of our lives. As we cultivate those experiences, they bear the seed to which future experiences can be sowed.

I wrote about the complicated feeling associated with homecoming in a previous post, and the complexity of those emotions and the difficulty of their appeasement while working seasonal shifts. I had focused at the time on the unexpected need for reconciliation when returning home after an extended absence. However, the root of those emotions started with the inevitable separation from your temporary living situation before coming home to your permanent one. While grieving those natural endings, the expectation is to celebrate the new beginnings. When those negative emotions, like grief, are repressed rather than addressed, they are allowed to stew and fester, which leads to a slow deterioration in mental health: this is very likely the opposite reaction your spouse would be expecting you to feel upon coming home, causing some confusion and frustration for them. This highlights the importance of communication during those periods of change. I jokingly compare pilots to those animals rehabilitated from injury or captivity, being reintroduced to the wild. At first we don't want to leave our crate, until we realize we are home and free. As funny as it sounds, crews need to be reintegrated into society.

Though my most recent experiences have been with seasonal experiences, I am sure it is a macrosample of the small-scale emotional disconnects that airline pilots experience more regularly. This weekly separation and reunion, that regular absence, creating a microcosm for the duration of your pairing before reinjecting yourself into your normal life, is an emotionally demanding practice that wears on many crewmembers over time. Unfortunately this is often reflected in marital difficulties, mental health deterioration, and too often results in self-medication and addiction.

As someone who is growing into agriculture, the simplicity of watching the cycle of crops from seeding to harvest made me pause to consider those natural cycles. As I watched farmers reap their harvests from the fields, it always felt like a celebration. When harvest was completed, there was a sense of palpable relief, of elation. The funny part is that it went both ways: you either toasted to a bountiful harvest, or you were glad to close the book on a difficult season.. because the beauty of it is that either way you get to try again in the spring. I started to realize that I must demonstrate more patience with myself and my loved ones on both sides of the season. After harvest, there is work that is required to restart the cycle, and the seeds need water, nutrients, sun and most importantly, time to thrive... planting those seeds and just willing them to grow faster does not accomplish much.

Despite all this poetic philosophizing, I stood at my car door for a long moment, thinking of the homecooked meals that were shared with me, the suffocating heat of the summer drenching through my flight suit, the deafening roar of the R-1340, the inevitable instant coffee in the office... knowing very well there is a chance I may never revisit those experiences again. Despite this, I come away much richer from the seeds I sowed and the harvest it provided.

Though I still struggle to verbalize my goodbyes during the natural conclusion to certain chapters, I realize that these endings are sometimes simply the fall harvest making way to winter.

No matter how long the winter, spring will follow.

So as we say in French, it is not goodbye, it is au revoir.

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