March 16, 2019 – Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Ways to say goodbye: Adieu. Tschüß. До свидания. 再见.
Ways to say goodbye: Wave from afar. Hang up the phone. Walk away. Pretend it’s not goodbye. Insist it’s not goodbye.
I don’t have a talent for goodbyes, but I wonder who does today. Whenever I have had a goodbye that seems neat and tidy, I usually see the other person again after all. Very rarely have I had a mutual, conscious, amiable, definitive goodbye. Most real goodbyes take me by surprise like grass suddenly grown too tall. And when did it actually happen? I am most likely to only recognize it in the rearview mirror, where objects are closer than they appear but inexorably fade into the distance.
Don’t worry, this blog entry is not in itself a goodbye in any way, but simply a reflection on them.
By the time this post appears on-line, I will have less than one week left in the Dominican Republic. I know it’s coming. Even if I return some day, which I hope to, it will be at a different time, in a different context. Some of the people I’ve met will be gone, others will remain. Who will be who?
That’s the thing though. Goodbyes seem so uncertain now, always carrying a question mark. With today’s communications technology, it is easier than ever to stay in touch with people, and easier than ever to deceive oneself about the likelihood of doing so. Some people actually manage to stay in communication. Others promise to do so noncommittally, as a way of being polite. Others still truly intend to do so but underestimate how hard it will be. If I know I will not stay in contact though, wouldn’t it be more satisfying to allow for an honest goodbye?
I lived in the same house for the first 18 years of my life, and since then the longest I have stayed at an address is three years. Goodbye friends, colleagues, streets, trees, restaurants, routines. The many ghosts I carry with me are all happy spirits by now and peaceful, but they still whisper for my attention. While I enjoy their company, very few of them are of people with whom I was able to share that ideal goodbye: mutual, conscious, amiable, and definitive. After all, where two people like each other, at least one of them usually pretends an intention to maintain contact, right?
It is hard for me to imagine a world in which goodbyes were more final. A voyage to another corner of the earth would not likely bring a return, nor could one expect loved ones to follow. Communication over distance was still primarily available for the elite literate few. Not so long ago, really. I’m sure a number of refugees today still live this finality, even if their goodbyes are forced by circumstance.
But really, what do we really expect from a goodbye? Dramatically swelling music with a camera zooming out until the screen fades to black?
I’ve been fortunate to know my date of departure from the DR in advance, so I’ve been thinking of what I still wanted to do or wanted to do again. Down to a final weekend, and all those boxes are basically checked. Now I can be open to possibility instead of plans. And I don’t expect to do much. No trip, unless somebody proposes something by surprise. A quiet weekend that some might call a wasted opportunity but that I can be content with. One way or the other, I will not suffer in hindsight, as my memories have already been made. My last visit to these beaches, for the time being at least, already took place without me recognizing it as such at the time. Would it have made a difference if I’d known?
If we were more conscious about the potential finality of each day’s goodbyes, could we savor our encounters a bit more whether with people, places, or experiences?
Again, I imagine that I will continue writing this blog throughout my term as vocation director… but you never know. If this were my last blog would you read it any differently?
Next week, the odds are good that I’ll be writing something related to going home (wherever that is). We’ll see.
So, I actually already alluded to this week’s “ear candy”. “Last Song” by Somi is a beautiful meditation on whether we would appreciate things more if we knew we were doing so for the last time. The reflective article chosen for “brain food” was written by a palliative care physician who describes her experience of coming to peace with impermanence. Both are beautiful and worth pondering.
Ear Candy: “Last Song” by Somi
Brain Food: “The Lesson of Impermanence” by Sunita Puri, M.D.
Come back next Saturday for a new post!