I’ve spent this week in Vanuatu on a short-term work assignment. It’s been great revisiting an aid program I used to be a part of, a program that brings the churches in Vanuatu together to work on development projects. I know the people involved, and it’s nice to catch up with old friends, but also strange, because I’m just dipping my toe in the water and then leaving again. I’m not around for the long-term. The people here know that, and I can feel that they know that, and part of me feels sad, and the other part feels relieved.
I’ve been out of the development field for a while now: about a year since my last aid-related assignment, and more than two and a half years since I left my job at an NGO. I was flicking through folders on my computer last night, looking over old photos and feeling nostalgic. I used to be 27 and live in Sydney. I used to wait near the Maritime Museum for my ferry home from work. I used to have a little cubicle with photos of PNG friends stuck beside me. I used to run around the Balmain Dry Dock to Birchgrove wharf and not feel pain in my knee. Steve, my parents, my friends, Steve’s parents, used to visit me in Sydney. We used to walk our visitors around Circular Quay and through The Rocks to Fratelli Fresh and order pasta and banoffee pie for dessert. I used to own a cotton shirt with green flowers. I used to have a flatmate named Sorrel. Used to used to used to.
I feel great affection for my past self. I’m glad I was that person, although I’m not her anymore. And while I’m happy to be who I am in this moment, it makes me sad to think that that 27 year old Sydney-sider with the flowery shirt and hoop earrings is gone forever. And curious to know what my 39 year old self will think of my present self, typing away in a motel room, listening to women speaking Bislama outside, needing to wash the dust off her feet, thinking about dinner.
“…I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.”
Joan Didion, On Keeping a Notebook, Slouching Towards Bethlehem