Poem on the Bus

Waiting for the bus…and the poems.

In Stuttgart the busses and trains are full of poems. They paste them on the walls above the seats and I like to read them, partly because I love poetry, partly because I love German, and partly because I really need to keep practicing my German and reading poems in transit is an efficient way to do it amid the flurry of life with two small children.

We don’t have a car and sometimes I’m short on reading time, so I spend a lot of time on our neighborhood bus and I’ve treasured many of these poems. I always mean to google them when I get home and save them somewhere special, but I usually forget. The bus poems are one of the many things I will miss when we leave Germany this June. My husband has received a truly ideal job offer as a school principal in a region of Vermont known as the Northeast Kingdom. We are excited to move our young family there; the area has captured our imaginations and I’m sure our hearts will be quick to follow. However, we’re now steeped in the craziness of moving ourselves, two kids, and a dog back across the ocean. The many tasks are mind-numbing and hard to balance against our natural desire to make the most out of every moment here before we leave.

With this job offer, our time in Germany, but also our time of living in many different places, comes to a close. We will always love to travel, but living, settling, is different, and that will now happen in Vermont. A lot of people have good-naturedly said things like, “well, here you go again!” I don’t blame them, but we are entering into this move the way you enter into a marriage. It’s not a step to anywhere but itself. And while this is a good thing, it naturally makes me reflect on the many moves that precede it.

I’ve lived on four continents in my adult life, more than I ever thought I’d even see. It has been my good fortune but also my heartache. A character in one of John Cheever’s many strange and wonderful stories says, “When you’re in one place and long to be in another, it isn’t as simple as taking a boat. You don’t really long for another country. You long for something in yourself that you don’t have, or haven’t been able to find.” The statement rung partly true but also puzzled me until today, when I realized that in my case, the things in myself I always look for are, in fact, the pieces of myself which have surprisingly grown and taken hold in all the different places I’ve lived, and which will never leave me.

All this brings me to my all-time favorite bus poem, written by Rutger Kopland, which I saw again this week. I read it in German, of course, and only learned after finally remembering to google it that Kopland is from the Netherlands and it was originally written in Dutch.

Here, then, is my own translation of the translation:

“Going Away”
by Rutger Kopland

Going away is something different
than slipping out of the house,
gently closing the door
behind that which you are,
and not coming back.
You remain someone
who is waited for.

Going away you can describe
as a type of staying. Nobody
waits, because you are still there.
Nobody says goodbye
because you are not going away.

If Kopland has it right, which I think he does, my nostalgia makes sense. Wherever I go, a small part of me lives elsewhere too, and probably always will.


35 thoughts on “Poem on the Bus

  1. Beautiful, Sarah. Thank you! (If only more American buses had poetry . . . maybe grownups wouldn’t be so scared of it!) Best of luck as you pack and prepare for this new chapter.

  2. Sarah,
    I really have to remember to have tissue nearby BEFORE i read your postings. They are wonderful, moving, meaningful and captivating. It has and will be an extrodinary experience to follow your life via your writings.
    Aunt Mary
    PS Welcome back Stateside!!!!

  3. Awesome writing, as always! Congratulations to Matt on his new job and to you both on this new phase of your ever-evolving life as a wife, mother, teacher, writer, friend…hope to see you again one day when I am in NY…VT won’t be too far away then! Buen suerte, amiga desde Santa Cruz! Te extrano! Besos, Rebecca

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Rebecca! Yeah, NY is definitely not far from VT, especially compared to Bolivia…be sure to look us up when you’re there, and thank you for the virtual besitos. All the best to you and Ivar!

  4. This is EXACTLY the way I feel about each of the places I have lived! I carry them with me in my heart! Friends and family tell me that part of me is still there with them, as they are reminded when they pass by places we enjoyed together. Wonderful how we can share that on Facebook and Twitter. I highly recommend you arrange to do that as you leave Germany and settle in Vermont. I think you and your family will LOVE that area! Looking forward to many wonderful posts from you from Vermont! (And just adored your report of all those poems posted on those German buses!)

    1. Thank you, thank you, Granbee! And forgive my sporadic visits to your own lovely blog as I muddle through this move.

      I’m glad you can relate to the conundrum of place…I wonder if all the while I’ve been fooling myself, thinking I miss places, when really I’m still there.

  5. Aren’t we global nomads all stuck in this paradox, yearning for a somewhere else while loving where you are, and doing both at the SAME time, even though you’d think these are irreconcilable contrasts. We make the impossible possible. You (or Rutger, if you will) expresses what I had felt since 1984 when I spent a year at NYU. Then began the heartache life story of always missing somewhere while being somewhere. Germany USA Shanghai Melbourne…. each place has such a firm glittering glowing yet solid presence in my heart… and our journey isn’t over yet. And I also dream of ‘settling’. Some day.

    1. I love this comment, Barbara, and am glad it’s now immortalized on this blog. It’s beautifully and concisely written, and I can tell you’ve been– and still are– exactly where I am. Once you’ve been a global nomad, I’m not sure it’s even possible to stop “always missing somewhere while being somewhere,” even if you do eventually “settle.” Each place remains, in some ways solidly real, in other ways a glittering mirage, forever in us.

  6. Sarah, I thoughtfully read and re-read this line: You don’t really long for another country. You long for something in yourself that you don’t have, or haven’t been able to find.

    How true! That longing comes even when you’re deeply settled for over 30 years in one solid place of earth. We long for what we haven’t been able to find. Which sets us on the search to find the home within.

    It will be fun reading of your new adventure in Vermont. I am sure you will flower there, too.

    1. The home within. This is what we always have to bring with us…then no matter where we are, we’ll be content. While I think different people are better suited to different places, I also think we’re in charge of how happy we make ourselves in any given location.

  7. Oh, this is so very beautiful. I don’t know where to start! I often feel nostalgia, and sometimes I have felt it for things I never had, almost as if a part of me was missing . . . or that I was still searching for completion. I don’t have this so much anymore, but I felt it a lot when I was younger.

    As far as the moving around, my husband and I moved every year for our first several years together (but not to different continents, like you) but we settled here in Northern VA 8 years ago. It’s been nice being here, but a wanderlust exists inside me. Maybe it is part of our nature, to seek new places that somehow feel like they belong inside us.

    Safe travels. Loved your post!

    1. Thank you, El. I also relate to this feeling of yearning for places and experiences I’d never actually known, as though I sensed there was something I was supposed to do eventually, someone I was supposed to become, and I wanted it THEN. As I grow older, I reflect on how my predictions and yearnings came true, or not, and how the unexpected turns defined my path as clearly as the ones I’d planned.

      I do think it’s natural to want to move, to explore. But there’s also the urge to stake some kind of claim in all of these different places, to make them “ours.” I know we’ll keep traveling in some capacity. But I’m glad that now we will also be able to point to a “home.”

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Christi. I’m glad this post rang true for you. The poem and the Cheever quote still run through my mind too…I’ve always been prone to nostalgia, and I think I’ve finally come to appreciate rather than resist the accompanying heartache. At least for the most part. 🙂

  8. Beautifully written, as always, Sarah. So glad you are returning and that you and your children will know what it’s like to settle in a place. We crave both experiences, one place and many. But the real journey is always home.

    1. Beautifully put, Shirley. It’s true– that ultimate journey is the one that leads us home. Even when we’re experiencing “the many,” at least in my case, there’s this drive to create a single home within it. We all want to belong somewhere.

  9. I never knew bus poetry could be so poignant, but that was lovely. Good luck with the move, and the new job, and the transition. And have fun finding yourself, again, within it.

  10. This is really beautiful – great writing. I have just recently discovered your blog via the Write Sideways Blog, and I look forward to more helpful articles – thank you! I live in New Hampshire; Vermont’s neighbor. The Northeast is a wonderful place to raise your family. I hope your move is easy and wonderful transition for your family.

    1. Amy, thank you so much for stopping by. My husband lived for several years in New Hampshire; in fact, his grandparents are still there, and we are looking forward to living closer. The Northeast is truly beautiful. Thanks for the encouragement.

  11. (I had wanted to leave this on your Raising TCK page, but it was closed and this had to be said)

    Your article brings to life many of my dreams and fears, which are mostly one in the same, mixed blessings. As a college student (Global Studies, Spanish, Japanese), world traveler/student/teacher (8 countries and 4 continents), Airman, and fiancee I know my life is going to be a challenging mix of 2-3 year assignments, long-distance friendships, language acquisition and instability. I don’t think I know how to express (in any language) how profoundly your article has impacted me – please, just accept my copious thanks and best wishes, for wherever life takes you.

    1. Kalyn, thank you so much for this comment. The way you describe your own reaction to the expat life– a collection of dreams and fears– is such an accurate expression. As humans, we crave both adventure and stability. It’s hard to have both. I wish you and your husband all the best for a challenging, but truly blessed, life.

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