There are times in our lives that we are left with sand in our shoes. It has happened to you and it has happened to me. I have written about these sands before. They stick around much longer than we intend. We let them linger and have a difficult time dusting our shoes, freeing ourselves, and saying goodbye. But this is not just about romance, this is about life.
My colleague Alex Magnin once wrote about How To Say Goodbye. I took the piece to heart; his words haunted me. The notion that we don’t say goodbye anymore, haunted me. I thought I believed in goodbye as someone who has had to pick up and move often. At least enough to understand what it means to leave a place and to leave people behind, uncertain about whether you will see them again. But with our communication and technology, I realized like most people of a certain privilege, “goodbye” is nothing more than an empty promise. Nonetheless, “Goodbye is a matter of heart and fate, less about chance than conviction,” were the most striking words from the piece.
I still mull over those words, dissecting the different ways it can be interpreted. I refuse to ask what they mean, however. I believe that sort of conviction is a subjective endeavor, both in how we can find goodbye in a goodbye-less age, and in how we can practice it, according to how each of us need it. But we do not like saying goodbye, you and I. It is a word that is associated far too often with sorrow, with pain, with dilemma. We have come to think of leaving, or releasing, or letting go, as ugly things. And of “goodbye,” as an ugly word.
I have faced some losses recently – all of them unexpected. And even in loss, you find that goodbye is still a choice. Because we no longer need people’s physical presence to feel like they are with us; perhaps we never did. But because of these losses, I have found that not only is goodbye necessary, it is the loving thing to do – for yourself and for the person or people to whom you bid adieu. When loss motivates goodbye, there is nothing left but consolation and solace – both of which you are left to find on your own.
Yet in these unexpected losses, in these forced farewells, I have learned how to say goodbye again. And more importantly I have learned why I need to. Goodbye allows us to breathe, it’s like a good rest after a long day; it organizes our thoughts in a mind that prefers clutter. Goodbye is clean air in a world polluted by too much of everything, all the time. Goodbye gives finality, and endings, and closure. Goodbye gives us power to shut the door behind and only look back for the memories.
So I did the practical things of this day and age – saying goodbye to people on digital devices and cleaning and clearing out “the stuff” that I no longer need; stuff I haven’t needed for a while. It was much more tasking than I imagined. These days, because of technology I presume, we seem to collect people more than anything else. And yet most of these people are mere strangers to us, and us to them. We are left with a fictional space in which we are nothing more than voyeurs in the lives of people we were only meant to know for a time.
Admittedly, I will collect some more people from here on out, maybe I will even re-meet those who I’ve said goodbye to at a future date. I am okay with dealing with the awkwardness that may come with that, and with the extra effort today’s goodbyes entail. I am okay with the uncertainty and the pain of goodbye. But I am no longer okay with feeling shackled by an era that despises endings; feeling forever chained to the nostalgia of a past that presents itself as living.
So try for goodbye in whichever way you can. Try for it in a way that gives your convictions meaning. For me, it has not only become a saving grace, but peace of mind. And in a world that doesn’t give you much of either, my goodbyes in their own way, have become a source of freedom.