There is a Frederick Buechner quote I love (funny, I included a Buechner quote in my last post): You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world, but a world lives in you.
It’s been four years now, but when I think about it too hard I almost experience that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach all over again. Graduating from college was hard because the place I had called home for four years that had grown and shaped me in immeasurable ways wasn’t exactly going to be my home anymore, but that was not the reason I felt like I was going to throw up. I had to say goodbye to one of the most incredible friends I had ever made. When we had met, I don’t think either of us had noticed anything particularly remarkable about the other one, but when we finally had the chance to get to know one another, our souls touched. After sharing a life-changing summer in Georgia, the ups and downs of being a college student, and supporting one another through being an RA, a semester abroad, internships, student teaching and frustrating jobs, it was hard to believe two friends could be so close.
But then it all came roaring to a premature halt. She was off to Australia to better get to know both a country and a man she had come to love and I was to remain in Chicago searching for teaching jobs.
I hate goodbyes. I’ve hated them since the day I was born and I’m sure I’ll hate them until the day I die. I wish I could keep all those I love right next to me in a designated location all working and living and growing and learning together. I wish we could all get to know each other and enjoy each other, while we swap stories and share commentary on books, music, and movies, enjoy each others’ spouses and children, eat meals together and relax after a day of work well done. But, that day four years ago is evidence I don’t live in this reality.
The people I love are scattered all over the globe. We can’t keep those we love close to us. The truth is, even when we do stay geographically close, nothing stays the same. People change. The threads that used to keep you connected loosen. We get caught up in busy schedules. New people and responsibilities are introduced to the equation and things can and never will be exactly the same.
Fortunately, I am learning that while sometimes (oftentimes even) things do get harder with goodbye, good can come from goodbye, too. It is so beautiful when you can be reunited with a friend whose path has taken them far from you, but it’s evident that they are exactly where they need to be and you can share in the joy of all that has happened in both of your lives. Then there are the incredible new friendships that can be formed when you come to terms with the reality of goodbye. If you are too fixated on the old that may already be long gone your heart will never have enough space for the sweet new relationships yet to be formed.
But I hold to the idea that even when we say goodbye there is still so much left. I’ve learned countless lessons from the people who have stepped in and out of my life. No matter how long or short they stayed, each made an impact. Every interaction, laugh, shed tear, intellectual exchange, they all mean something. They all teach us a lesson. They make us stronger. So even when I am heart-sick with a fresh goodbye still on my tongue, I can slip through the sadness with a smile, thankful for the people the Lord has been good enough to bring into my life.
I may never enjoy goodbyes, but I am not (quite as) afraid of them anymore. Though that friend still lives just as far from me as she possibly could, I feel just as close to her as ever. When we come together nothing is the same and everything is the same all at once. The feelings we feel, the prayers we pray, the words we exchange, they are all possible in part to our goodbye and for that reason, I guess I owe “goodbye” a “thank you.”