Do you have to go?

Melissa Hug

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.”

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Why can’t we be friends?

Why Can't

When I was little, making friends was not always easy for me. I had my sister and my select friends that I felt comfortable with. We would play, imagine, and go on little adventures, but when I wasn’t with them, I preferred to be by myself. I would dance around pretending to be a ballerina, concoct the perfect mudpie for my imaginary cooking show, or scrape up what little make-up and nail polish I could find and envision myself as a fashionista or a superstar. The idea of meeting new people made me nervous. I was lonely sometimes, but I preferred to feel alone in my safe little world, than taking the risk of stepping out of my comfortable reality.

As I got older, things changed. In junior high, high school, and college the Lord intervened and took it upon Himself to place mentor after mentor in my path. Parents of friends, youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, older students, professors, resident assistants and resident directors entered my life and changed everything. They poured into me as we laughed, served, spoke, studied, and learned together. They walked me through times both good and bad. I watched them raise their children, endure tragedy and pain with dignity, face the unexpected, and share words of wisdom. They were pouring into me over and over, sometimes without even realizing they were doing it. I knew what was happening was special, but not how special until I got a bit older and realized how difficult the gift I was given is to come by.

Twenty-somethings in Chicago are lonely. Many keep their minds off of just how lonely they are by partying every chance they get with people who barely know them, others jump from one romantic relationship to another or stay in a relationship they know isn’t right just because it is better than being alone, and still more live their lives on social media seeking out as many “likes” or “retweets” as possible by posting the funniest one-liners they are capable of or the most beautiful pictures of their most recent trips. Making friends after college is HARD and I can say that because I know. Suddenly, your friends that used to live so close by are all spread out. You work full days that leave you exhausted at the end of the day and unable to muster up the energy to get out and mingle. The fear of rejection overcomes you as you tell yourself it would be too weird or awkward to invite that person over for dinner or out for coffee. As a result, much like I did when I was a little kid, you stick to what you know and suffer the safety of loneliness rather than facing what it means to “put yourself out there.”

Though young Chicagoans are in dire need of deep friendships, I believe this void can’t even compare to the absence of inter-generational, inter-marital status, or inter-lifestage relationships. Whether you find your friends at church or work or in your apartment complex, it seems we go out of our way to keep clear of those who find themselves in a different area of life than we are in. The married with children deem the single to be too immature or clueless to ever actually be a friend and the singles accuse the married people of being too busy, arrogant, or boring to go out of their way to clear their schedules for. I get it. Chicago parents and grandparents want to use every ounce of energy they have to pour into their own children and grandchildren and Chicago singles want to spend as much of their free time as possible meeting prospective friends and significant others at the bar. It’s understandable, but are we better for it?

I think it is time for us to come clean about just how lonely we are. It may be terrifying, but we will almost certainly find we are not the only ones. If we come to terms with our sad state, maybe then we will be able to make a change. Perhaps if the 28 year-old male would humble himself enough to ask for help from the 50 year-old, he would have the necessary energy to pour more into the 22 year-old. Maybe if the the 35 year-old female took a chance and became a part of the life of the 24 year-old, she would find she got more in return than she ever imagined.

So today, let’s take a chance. Let’s talk to someone it seems we could never have anything in common with. Let’s admit our loneliness and brokenness. Let’s decide that we are better together than we could ever be apart.