Goodbyes are never easy. We’re being reminded of this as we begin the process of moving (again) to start a new phase of our lives. We just returned from a wonderful evening spent with a great group of friends from our church family. The drive home was a quiet one. Just as it was three years ago, it’s hard to think about picking up and leaving friends and family again, and starting over somewhere new. Every get-together with friends now carries with it a tinge of regret – the knowledge that this may be the last time we get together this way with this group of people for this reason. There is a sense of loss that comes with goodbyes, a sense that something good is slipping away.
As we were laughing, crying, and remembering tonight I thought of a passage I read this morning from Frederick Buechner. The context is, officially, a marriage talk, but I think it can, with a little editing and imagination, apply here as well:
To give yourself away in love to somebody else… is to become for the first time yourself fully. To live not just for yourself alone anymore but for another self… is in a new way to come fully alive…. By holding fast to each other in trust, in patience, in hope and by holding fast also to him who has promised to be present whenever two or three are gathered together in his name… by grace we become, little by little, human in spite of ourselves, become whole, become truly loving and lovely at last.
What Buechner says of marriage also applies, I think, to friendship. It might be possible to avoid the pain of goodbyes by living only for ourselves, protectively closing others out of our lives and noncommittally keeping our distance from them. It’s not fun to be sad, after all, nor is it fun to see your departure cause sadness for others. But the answer is not and cannot be not getting close enough to anyone to miss them. We were created to love and to be loved by others, to share in the joy and the sadness that our individual stories produce when they mix and mingle with the stories of others. To refuse to open ourselves up to the sorrow of goodbyes is also to refuse the goodness and the joy of sharing the journey with others.
In the end, goodbyes do not represent the last word. We know that we will see friends again, if not as frequently. We know that we will make new friends. We know that all of the people who have been, continue to be, and will be a part of our lives make us more whole people, more fully human. And ultimately, we believe in a God for and in whom nothing good is finally lost, a God who designed us to give to and receive from others in order to become the best versions of ourselves, to become whole, to become fully human.