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On goodbyes

25 July 2011

About a month ago, on a retreat at Bethany House of Prayer (a retreat/prayer/spiritual direction center operating in conjunction with the Sisters of St. Anne-Bethany in Arlington, MA), my internship program began talking about how we would say goodbye to each other, to those we have served, and to those who we have known during the past eleven months.

Kimberly Green, one of the BHOP colleagues who led the retreat, described four major ways of saying goodbye:

  1. The door-slam: Violently ending a relationship through anger, feigned disinterest, and like kind so as to not need to say goodbye
  2. The back-door: Avoiding the vulnerability of saying goodbye at all by simply disappearing
  3. The denial: Pretending that it is not really a goodbye, but more a “see you later” or “we’ll keep in touch”
  4. The recognition: Intentionally setting aside time to fully acknowledge an end in the relationship (either to a portion of it, or to it as a whole) through appreciation, well-wishing, etc.

Now, it was easy enough abstractly to consent to the notion that the fourth way is obviously superior—though rarer. The “best”, or most fully present, goodbyes in my life have taken this fourth form. It is not the fun way to go, nor is it the easy way, but it is the one that best brings closure.

A month later, now five days before I leave Boston, I find myself thinking back to this and realizing what was easy to understand in the abstract is becoming impossibly hard to do in the practical. Rarely do I resort to the first kind. But I have said goodbye to the vast majority of my friends in the third way, some of whom I have really stayed in touch with, but a great many of whom simply disappeared. This happened for Summer Ventures, for Governor’s School, for high school, and to a lesser extent for college. This is the classic story of simply growing apart.

Right now, in the certain number of relationships that I know will not continue as they are now, but that I do not in any way want to end, I am tempted to avail myself of the second form, and simply disappear. It is easier, after all, than facing the fact that things will change. It is also less scary (as a male who was taught not to show emotion) than crying, which I am sure will happen if I go for the fourth instead of the second.

The problem with the first three types is that there is something major that they do not acknowledge. The feelings, affections, love, etc. of a relationship are not valued in the first and second; the first intentionally tries to bring an end to them, and the second leaves them unsaid. Alternately, the end of the relationship as it stands is not acknowledged in the second and the third; the second again leaves it unsaid, and the third pretends like nothing is changing.

Though I know it is the right and good thing to do to acknowledge the end of my relationships in Boston as they are right now, and to acknowledge my feelings towards those I have grown to love here, it is hard. It requires looking the vulnerability of saying goodbye in the face, and of embracing it, something we as a species are not very good at. But vulnerability does not go away by running away from it; only by acknowledging it do we take its controlling power away.

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