I am such a coward when it comes to saying goodbye. I will make every excuse known to humankind to avoid having to do the eventual, big embrace, finale. I think it comes back to college, because, prior to that, I don’t recall having a real issue with goodbyes.
In high school, we dragged out the departures to college, the military, and all the life that was waiting for us by going to party after party after party, all of them ending with a dwindling dozen or so of us, sitting in a yard or field, nostalgically retelling stories and making promises that somehow bound us to one another for life. Each night, there was a new round of goodbyes for the person or persons who would be leaving the next day, and, each night, we had a little bit more silence from the space made by those who had just left. I don’t recall where I was in the lineup, but it was solidly in the middle. I had said a fair number of farewells, but there was still a small group remaining to bid me my own.
Leaving college was different. I was left. I stood in the middle of New Hampshire Avenue late on a summer afternoon, wrapped in the arms of my two best friends, squeezed so tightly it was impossible for any air to move between us. David went in one direction, Marjorie went in the other and I was left to walk back up the stairs to the now far too big apartment and finish out the summer alone. There is so much story in just writing those names…but that was before the leaving. The leaving was the end. Despite our promises, that was it.
After that, the reality of saying goodbye was unveiled for the ugly truth that it is: the end of what is known and a leap of faith into the future. The farther I got away from college, the more goodbyes I endured, each putting my faith in its place and showing me that distance is hard and life is defined primarily by those in close proximity. I moved a lot as an adult, before finally settling into my current space, and with each move I left behind people and made promises. Saying goodbye became harder and harder the more life reaffirmed that most goodbyes were final. (There are a few exceptions…well, just one, really.) Now, when I know that someone is going to leave, I try to find ways to leave first, even if it is just slipping quietly through the side door when no one is looking.
I have another goodbye coming and this one will test my faith, once again. I am grateful that I have years of knowing how to do this poorly so that maybe this time I can do it well.