I can’t think of many moments stranger than saying goodbye to someone you know you’ll never see again. I mean, that’s it. You have a couple last words, you look them in the eye–like, you really look them in the eye–and you soak it in as best you can. Truth is, you’ll turn around and walk off and with astonishing speed, you’ll start to forget the details. You’ll have nothing but a memory of them to prove that they were ever real. Our minds move on quicker than our hearts.
Not all goodbyes are so serious, of course. We say goodbye to strangers and cashiers that we’ll never see again and it doesn’t really bother us. We put those faces and conversations into our short term memory and let it slide away willingly. There’s no reason to store every interaction.
Then there are the big goodbyes. The friends and family members, who, for whatever reason, we won’t see again. Those ones hurt and they take a while to heal. Feels sometimes like actual parts of you are missing, and we’re not starfish so it’s not like we can just grow that part back. We use time to seal the wound. Time is a fickle bandage.
What got me thinking about the permanent goodbye was my final meeting with the girl I was tutoring. Our meetings in the library were held somewhat regularly over the past three months, giving us a good amount of time to become familiar. I can’t say we were friends because I maintained a consistent teacher-student distinction, but after about twenty hours, cumulatively, you get used to having them in your life. And when the time came to end our tutoring sessions, I felt odd, like a starfish looking at its own severed arm, wondering how things would be different without it, wondering what new part would grow in its place.
I see this being a concern as I aspire toward a career in teaching.
You spend months and months, day after day, with those kids and I like kids, so I can see how parting ways at the end of the year could pull hard on my heart strings. If I felt sad at the idea of ending a tutoring gig, then imagine me saying goodbye to a hundred different kids who have basically become my life and purpose. I’m not saying I can’t do it–I’m actually pretty good at separations like this. Life goes on. I know that. But the weight of these goodbyes, in that moment, in that realization that you’re looking at someone for the last time, is always startling.
Like the last page of a book. The final frame of a movie.
Blink, and they’re gone.
You’ve crossed paths on this crazy wild ride called Life and now it’s time to veer away again, to continue forward in one direction while they take another. You might never know what happens to them. One day, years from now, you’ll look back on this time and you’ll remember them, vaguely, and you’ll wonder where they ended up. Did you influence them? Did they influence you? I think it’s impossible to meet anyone and not have the rest of your life slightly affected by their presence.
Maybe that is what’s so fascinating by the permanent goodbye.
You say goodbye, but they’ll always be with you.