Brussels: the Au Revoir City

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Goodbye. How many times have you said it? How many times have you meant it? How many times did you not want to say but had to? There are stories about Brussels; people come for a six-month internship and stay twenty years. Those are good stories. But there are lots of people who come for six-months, or a year, or two years, but then are gone again. They come into life here, in this city, drink deeply of it, but then they are off again. These are friendships that burn brightly and quickly, and they can be exhausting.

If you have spent much time in Brussels, you know that it is a place at once both much loved and much detested by those living here. In many ways, Brussels is a city like its original drink, geuze: you either love it right away, or hate it at first, and then over time grow slowly to like it as it creates its own special corner in your mouth. It is not an easy place to make a home, yet happy homes are made here all the time.

One of the most challenging aspects of Brussels is its own Herclitean flow: everything changes and you never step into the same pub twice, at least not with the same people. There are constant hellos, an ever new influx of people with their own stories, their own hope and dreams, and their own needs. Relationships are always being built, friendships created. But there are also constant goodbyes, with friendships that have been established ending, or at least changing dramatically. Was all the relational energy worth it, becomes the constant question.

And the answer is that I don’t know. Having experienced life in Brussels for two years, and with plans to be here another three at least, I have had a taste of it — of the revolving door of relationships. And it does hurt, but whether I am just new at it or handle the change better, I would say it is worth risking my friendship to those who might or who are definitely leaving Brussels. It is hard, but to withdraw and not make friendships would leave one cold or at least insular, only ever talking to the same people. My question to myself is whether my heart and hearth are open enough for the other to come in and to leave on his or her own terms. Am I loving enough to do that?

The hope of Brussels, though, is the au revoir and not the adieu. Relationships that are made here and then are scattered into the wind are hopefully seeds that germinate and grow, despite the distance. And ones that may be enjoyed for years to come. That does not happen all the time, nor with everyone, but for the rare few it makes all the goodbyes worth it, with all their pain and loss. So, let’s keep saying hello and goodbye, in hope that one day all goodbyes will end.

— Jeremy

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