When I flew to Brussels for what was to be my last European board meeting last week, it hit me. The next eight weeks will be a long series of goodbyes.
After two and a half years of trips to Europe for work, I was beginning to take them for granted. This time was different. It could be my last time in Brussels and I snapped some photos on my weary camera phone (the digi cam was his) on my way to the hotel.
Another mundane business trip suddenly turned into another last. I felt sad. After the first day’s meeting droned to an end, I decided to get outside for a quick jog before dinner. Only five minutes later I was in the middle of the spectacular Grand Place, where I returned for dinner that evening.
Feeling much better I jogged on to the Palais de Congres.
Goodbye… I thought.
Dinner that evening was great. I chatted with one of my favourite Finnish colleagues, and realised that after two years of meeting this small group of Europeans in various hotels and cities across Europe, I had come to think of many of them as my friends. Through them I began to know Europe. They shared their secrets: the best restaurants, funniest movies, political perspectives and expertise about all things bioenergy. A few even invited me to their homes for dinner. But it’s the subtler things I’ll remember: the requisite “bon appetite” before every course whether in France or Finland, greetings and farewells signalled by kisses on the cheeks, and quirky mannerisms denoting one EU nation from the next.
Over three courses and flowing wine, my colleague and I bantered about music and Canada, passions we both share, and I felt excited about returning home.
My boss recommended the “Dame Blanche” for dessert and I eagerly poured Belgian chocolate sauce over vanilla ice cream and whip cream. A Brussels specialty, this would probably be my first and last white lady.
When it came time to announce my departure, I managed to hold it together. I’ve been ready to move jobs for a few months now, but I didn’t expect it to happen this way. Already feeling fragile it wasn’t easy to do, but I knew it was right.
And so I’m back in Birmingham. Ready for more lasts, goodbyes and farewells – and wishing for a happy ending.