Getting Through Goodbyes
The Senior Compass Series
I hate saying goodbye. The world has too many thoughts, experiences and emotions for that one little word to convey. Or, at least, I have too many emotions for that one little word.
Personally, I prefer departures in other languages. The Danes say, “Vi ses.” When I hug my mom at the airport, I say, “Zaijian.” Both convey a sense of “see you again” compared to the finality expressed within a goodbye.
Nonetheless, our lives are filled with goodbyes. Graduating high school, leaving home behind, shattering the freshman friend group as required by the Office of Residential Living’s rooming politics, ending a long-term relationship or the coming and going of a budding friendship. I hate those moments, those endings. As a kid, I would cry to my parents every year before beginning a new school year. “Mom, I’m going to be in fifth grade now. Next year I’ll be in sixth. Before you know it, I’ll be working, and then…I’ll be dead.”
My fear of mortality aside, I struggle to say goodbye due to the happiness that comes with these friendships and places. With graduation looming, the prospect of friends and acquaintances spreading across the country — across the world — forces all of us to confront a number of potential goodbyes.
I confronted one just yesterday, lying on Copley Lawn with friends during the farmers market. One of my best friends told me that he was likely accepting a job on an opposite coast. Suddenly, the thought of not seeing one of my closest friends every day dawned on me. We are both entering the workforce as little cogs in the capitalist machine. Years will pass. We will start families, become busy with those new lives. And 50 or so years down the line, we will look back on where the time has gone, unsure when the friendship had changed, or possibly even disappeared.
I floundered around the sunny lawn for a bit, pacing back and forth with my worries and thoughts about good times gone by. Maybe those types of memories would never happen again after we graduated.
So why do I try and keep these relationships? Why am I trying to make new friends with a month and a half of college left? I suppose the answer comes precisely from the pain accompanying a goodbye. The pain derives from the joy and happiness of being with others, from making myself vulnerable, ready to embark on a new adventure with a new person or place. And those goodbyes are not really final.
There is something to be said for living in the present, for enjoying someone’s presence even with the prospect of the moment never happening again. For living as if that moment with someone is the last experience together. And when we are hurt, I think we should embrace those emotions.
Learning to sit with the pain of a goodbye — an ending — helps us celebrate the very real joy we shared with others. Acknowledging finality also helps us move forward knowing what we want from future relationships and experiences.
But acknowledging the potential finality of a goodbye does not mean that a relationship truly ends. When I say goodbye to my friend the day we graduate, I want to do so with the full acceptance that I may very well never see them again. I want to know that I have loved them as fully as I can. At the same time, I say goodbye realizing that our paths could cross again.
Another city, another time, another adventure. When we acknowledge the potential finality of a goodbye, when we realize the pain that can result from the end of a platonic or romantic relationship, saying hello turns into a more meaningful and intentional act.
It has been four years of learning to say goodbye, and given all the lessons I have learned, I think a “zaijian” or “vi ses” is more appropriate. With all that in mind, I want to convey some things to the people that have come and gone from my life. To my friends, you have shaped who I am in every way through our daily interactions. To those I have hurt, I am sorry; I realize we may have said our goodbyes, but I also hope and believe that we can say hello again in the future. To those I love, we will say goodbye when we graduate, but that makes the hellos even more special for me.
Justin Fang is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. This is the second installment in The Senior Compass Series, which appears every Wednesday.