--Raymond Chandler, “The Long Good-bye”
I hate saying good-bye.
I relearned that hard truth this past week at a going away party for a friend, whom I’d come to really cherish in the past few years, a fellow singer in a community choir and my teammate for Sunday night trivia at a local restaurant. A new job opportunity came up for her, and so this week Becky will pack up all of her belongings, get on a plane and then land in sunny California 3,000 miles away, to begin a new chapter in her life. Yes: I know that we’ll stay connected over Facebook and even see each other again when she comes back east to visit family, but the truth?
Good-byes in life are just hard.
I know in my head that good-byes are a given; that the risk we take as humans, always, in connecting to other people, caring about them and loving them, is that all life eventually changes. Life moves along at its own unstoppable pace and inevitably, surely, at some point, life shifts. Life turns. Life is altered by circumstances beyond our control. People and places and realities that are here today, are gone tomorrow. A friend moves. A favorite town landmark closes its doors. A loved one leaves or we leave them. There is nothing we can do about these endings.
Good-byes are life.
Doesn’t mean we have to like them. As a good-bye averse soul I’ve developed strategies over the years to avoid final farewells. One of my standbys is making an early exit from a party to escape the last teary hugs and heartfelt reminiscing. “Where’s John? I wanted to say good-bye to him.” There’s the avoidance route, out of sight, out of mind. I still take a wide berth around the town where an ex-girlfriend lived. Don’t want to relive that awful adieu. It was five years before I gathered up the courage to finally visit my father’s grave, a simple granite stone, planted in the ground, on a windswept hill at a cemetery on Cape Cod. That was a really difficult but tender good-bye, one we both needed to make.
The spiritual cliché might argue that love means never having to say good-bye. That though people are physically gone from our lives, they still live on in memory and stories, in faded photos and yellowing letters from long ago, in “remember when”. There is a deep truth to this, a transcendence in still feeling the echo of an old friend or lover or family member, who is present to us, if only in our hearts. No denying this. As William Faulkner noted, “The past is never dead. It is not even past.”
But still, some good-byes are good-byes: final, clear, and undeniable. We may try to wish these away or turn these away or deny how much they hurt. Yet I don’t think I want to do that anymore, run away from good-byes. Instead I want to face into all my good-byes in a new way, and first with gratitude. The best farewells remind us of the importance of telling the people that we love how much of a difference they have made in our lives. Maybe even worse than saying good-bye, is failing to thank someone before they leave. “If only I’d told them…” We take for granted how fleeting and fragile this life is. In facing into good-bye with grace and care, I want to say “I love you” and ‘thank you” much, much more to the people I share the world with, because who knows what tomorrow will bring?
More good-byes. More hellos too.
For a good good-bye also teaches me as a person of faith, that just as God brought a wonderful friend into my life who then moves on, God will also bring new relationships to me. If I believe that God was good and God is good, I’ve also got to have the trust to believe that God will be good too. After all, God is at the heart of all our good-byes. The original meaning of “good-bye” was “God bye”, as in God go with you.
So good-bye Becky. God go with you. You’d better to say in touch! I know you are absolutely going to make some amazing new friends in L.A. Get ready for the hellos! Thank you being my friend and thank God for the courage to say good-bye with gratitude and trust.
Maybe good-byes aren’t so bad after all.