Goodbye: A Prelude

“Don’t break my red plate.”

“Don’t get attached to inanimate objects.”

“I have to; the animate ones keep leaving.”

Never before has that six year-old exchange held more meaning that in the past few months, especially in the past two weeks. Just a few days ago, eldest son, his partner, and their daughter (yep, my granddaughter) moved to Hawaii. Just today middle son left for summer adventure in Seattle and LA, along with participation in a dance intensive in North Carolina. Youngest son is taking driver’s ed: a definitive step toward many more goodbyes. He is also starting high school in the fall – yet another milestone that heralds more farewells.

We are in a culture that doesn’t like to say goodbye. Saying that word has fallen out of fashion. If you type in “it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later” into YouTube, you get over seven million hits: original songs, movie clips, poetic tributes, and inspirational talks. Move that search out to Google, and you’ll get 39 million hits.

We don’t want to say goodbye. This is prevalent in modern dating culture. It seems to be (and I ran this by people in several different age brackets) standard to ghost a person you don’t want to see any more. For example, you have a first date – maybe even a couple of dates – and then: Nothing. No texts, calls, emails…no returned correspondence either. If this happens to you, you have been ghosted. The person in question is disappearing; they don’t want to say, “Hey, I’m not really that interested” or “This isn’t working out” or the old standby, “It’s not you; it’s me.” No one wants to say goodbye in any form.

We can also see this reticence in the funeral industry. Like all industries, the funeral industry evolves to stay relevant. And, in the end, we all use some part of that industry. However, a desire to avoid the finality of a goodbye caused by death plays a role. A number of factors, including rising costs; creating new traditions; and a move away from traditional organized religion, encourage families not to view a funeral or other life-end memorial as a goodbye, but as a celebration of life. If we meditate then party, we don’t have to say goodbye.

Why? Are we trying to keep our options open? Are we thinking: if I don’t say goodbye, then the person isn’t really dead? Or my friend hasn’t really moved away?  Or she might still date me if I want to re-up later? What’s happening here?

Farewells are hard. I have divorced twice; I have had close contemporaries and young students, as well as beloved elders, die; I have been ghosted; I have moved. I have sent two sons to college and into life. Goodbyes are a part of all of life.

Goodbye is a contraction from the 16th century “God be with ye.” Seems appropriate. Child going to college? God be with ye. Not interested in dating him any more? God be with him. Dear friend passed away? God be with her. Yes, totally appropriate. And needed.

We need to be able to say goodbye to people. It’s an important skill. Saying goodbye well teaches resilience. It draws a line, and it allows those being left behind to adjust to an absence. Being able to say goodbye means that we can leave someone and move forward. When goodbye doesn’t involve the finality of death, it’s easier; but even when it is funereal, it’s a prelude to the days where we have to go on living.

I’m not saying goodbyes are easy. But, I’m afraid that the lack of sincere, sometimes heart-wrenching goodbyes are rendering us incapable of moving on in a healthy way. Sure, I cry when a son leaves to move 3915 miles away. I have cried when my loved ones have died. I cry with others when their loved ones die. I cried when I got seriously ghosted earlier this year. Shoot, I cry when a contestant gets eliminated on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

In their various forms, these goodbyes help me into the next act.

Yes, goodbyes are tough to swallow. And, yes, sometimes the next act totally sucks.

However, goodbyes are not the end of a song; they are  the entr’acte.

Goodbyes are the prelude to what comes next.

 

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The Devil is in the Details

SnowThis morning was a beautiful morning with light fluffy snowflakes pirouetting around and warm enough air to convince me to linger for a few minutes, contemplating today’s topic: “where will your life be in seven years?”

My answer: I have no idea. Do you?

Look at it this way: where were you seven years ago?

I was teaching English in a private school in Georgia, still married, and spending an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how not to live in Georgia or be married. If you had asked me then if I would have the wherewithal to divorce and move across country in the next seven years, I would not have said yes. I barely knew how I was going to get through the week I was in – much less plan seven years out.

I mean, seven years ago my youngest son was only seven. Wow. My eldest was 16, and middle son was 13. Seems like a different life time. Our cat had not yet been born seven years ago.

I know people who thought they knew what was going to happen, and then: life. Or death. Or marriage. Or cancer. Or opportunity. Or or or…

The cliche goes that God laughs when we make plans. Well, maybe. Being a lifelong teacher, I do enjoy a good plan, but flexibility goes a long way, too.

So, while I guess I did plan and execute a lot over the course of the past seven years –  divorce, moving across town, sending one son to college, buying a house, a new job, selling a house, moving across country, sending a second son to college, renting a house, another new job, buying a condo – and those are just the biggies – I don’t think I could say that it was all planned seven years ago.

Sure, we make things happen. But, sometimes life just happens.

We live, work, love, drink, cry, laugh, and carry on.

I don’t want to try to control everything. I surely don’t want to see too far down the road.

In my fourth ever real job interview after graduating, I was asked by the superintendent of Community Unit School District 220 in Illinois, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Being young, being full of myself, being unprepared, in a split second and with no idea how to answer and with a straight face I said, “Sitting in your chair.”

I got the job.

Hubris. But I no longer want to be a superintendent – that was an idea from 21 years ago.

Making plans and seeing them through can be fulfilling. So can binge watching Netflix. So can eating chocolate. Our whole lives are made of mini-lifetimes; we divide them up by the places we lived, the jobs we had, or decades of age. No matter how you do it, it’s the time of year for reflection and reveling in those past calendar pages.

What will the next seven years bring? I don’t know. But, whatever is included, I hope that I can open my eyes to the new chances, opportunities, and people, as well as loving those that are part of my history. Indeed, every day is a new mini-lifetime.

Join me.

                                                                                                                               “. . . I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. . . “