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The Art of Goodbye

14 Sep



I should be a pro at this by now.

  • Parents got divorced when I was 11, I don’t really understand how this is traumatic for most kids-it’s just something that happens, but then again my parents were pretty cool about it. Either way, I was pretty unaffected.
  • I moved in the middle of 7th grade with a fair amount of overly dramatic tears. (To be fair, I was the poster child for the moody withdrawn tween- but they DID make us move on my birthday AND start school on April Fool’s Day. To top it off we moved to our “rival school” …because that’s a thing in middle school…C’mon, that’s just cruel!) I was over it about a week later.
  • I left high school without caring a bit about leaving because I knew the few people I actually cared about I’d still see. I think I cried at out senior night for sports though.
  • I graduated undergrad at most, little nostalgic for “the good old days” and then didn’t even attend my grad school ceremony because I didn’t feel that attached to my peers.
  • I’ve watched friends continually commute between the states and elsewhere.
  • I’ve bawled my eyes out every summer upon leaving my camp staff and campers for that “one last time” and then for the actual last time.
  • I’ve had my fair share of gut-wrenching, head throbbing, heartbreaks that I swore I’d never recover from.
  • I’ve parted from my family at the airport curb at 4am, fresh out of grad school, suitcases in hand, leaving not for vacation, but to start a new life in another country. I hadn’t even lived at home for the school year or summer since freshman year.
  • I’ve come home and said goodbye to friends, potential future husbands, and family exactly 2 times since I moved to Costa Rica a year ago.
  • I’ve taught or interned at 5+ different schools and become invested in students that I eventually had to leave, even though I just wanted to keep watching them grow through the years.

By now, I should be good at goodbye.

I’ve done it enough after all.

The problem is that the more I do it, the harder it gets. I thought it was supposed to be the other way around. Maybe I’m just getting soft in my “old age” (I never used to cry at movies, now the slightest emotional scene between family or lovers has me in sobs). I’ve been puzzling this one over for awhile. As I’ve gotten wiser and started to understand how things work more, I figured I should be capable of letting go more gracefully but that’s still not the case. I’ve come to conclusion that that is exactly the problem. I understand.

Think about it for a minute.

The more you experience, the more you’ve seen. You know more emotions, you’ve become aware of the expanding variety of possible outcomes of every action you take. You’ve seen love and you’ve seen loss and maybe even felt it. You’ve built even stronger bonds and you’ve weeded out the weak ones. No longer is the world a place of a few options- it’s not just “don’t worry I’ll see you soon” -there’s very real chances that you may never see someone again. You now know that as much as someone means to you, you may mean just the same to them.

I think this reality hit me a little too hard when I actually left home for the first time. I’m not talking about college or summer camp. I could always go home and see the people I needed to see during that time. I’m talking “I’ve got a real job and a permanent residence that is not my parent’s house. I’ve got a real job that I’m contracted into and I’m not a few hours drive away, and I’m no longer a constant part of your life.”

When I leave now, I know that I’m really leaving. What’s worse is that I’m so much more thankful for them now and every time I visit home I get so much closer and feel like maybe I’ve made a mistake, maybe I should have stayed. I almost feel guilty for leaving them and living my life like I’m supposed to be doing. Like if something happened and I wasn’t there I don’t know if I could forgive myself. The same applies to friends. I’m missing out on their lives and growing away from them.

“Growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I’m glad for that.”

-Ally Condie, Matched

As for the men. I meet a guy, I have to leave him or he let’s me go because i’m leaving anyway. It’s as if I’m watching my future get cut before I’ve even been able to choose what my future is going to be. I want roots and wings but can’t quite find a way to make them co-exist. When I finally settle down I have this fear that I’m bound to be isolated and alone in the sense that I was neglecting my relationships and they’ve all died or been taken care of by someone else. I’m choosing to leave, but to what cost? I’m essentially taking the time and care to build something and then in a quick ocean crossing destroy it. It’s exhausting.

So this art of goodbye? I’ve only been able to boil it down to a few things.

  1. To even get to the point of saying goodbye means you’re still living and exploring. We’re supposed to do that.
  2. I know I wouldn’t want anyone to stay idle for fear of saying goodbye, and I’d want them to get out and explore, so I have to try and stop feeling guilty for leaving.
  3. Leaving doesn’t always mean you don’t love someone or vice versa. You can let go and know that you loved the best you could, or you have the option of staying in touch but with an understanding that things will change.
  4. Maybe it’s crazy, but what’s meant to be will be. We’re all on this erratic path and we never know where we’re going or if we’ll return. Someday though, it will feel like you’re where your supposed to be. When it no longer does- move on. It’s okay to go again.

I’m not sure exactly how long this will work, and I never know what is the right choice until I’ve made it, or how to make saying goodbye hurt any less (even if it’s justified), but I can tell you this: life was much easier season by season.



PS- The title of this post was inspired by a random book I pulled off the shelves a few years ago called The Language of Good-bye by Maribeth Fischer. I highly recommend it.