Sometimes, I feel the longest night creeping up on me. And I don’t know how to handle myself around it. It’s an awkward thing to maneuver. It’s more powerful and confident. It doesn’t care for my state of mind. It is unswerving in its allegiance to my fate.
I decided to clean out my old things tonight. Although my mother and I don’t exactly see eye-to-eye (I’m not much taller), we do share some similarities. Yes, I may be sentimental (she doesn’t have a sentimental bone in her body), but we both like to create order in our spaces.
I got the itch to completely “purge” my possessions. The problem with this is, most of my possessions are things I haven’t purchased. Being someone who has never had money, all the things I have were given to me. Most of what I own, then, carries emotional baggage. I don’t even have a heart to get rid of a one dollar back scratcher my sister got me. Alright, so my sentimentality might cripple my ability to create order, but at least I can make order of “useless” things.
While rummaging through my bookshelf, I found two identical magazines. I knew what they were, but hadn’t seen them in awhile. I opened one up to remind myself of the contents. On the twenty something page, I saw a picture of myself, my sister, and my older brother. Sitting in between us was my mother.
And for a moment, I just stared at her face. Then, I burst into tears.
Another difference between my mother and I, I thought, has always been our differing constitutions. For her, there are things that completely shut her down, while barely affecting me. In other instances, when I retreat and go over the same ground again in my mind, she is planting tomato plants with a smile.
I can never guess when things affect me. And when purging my room, I didn’t expect to be dug through the heart by a picture of my mom. It’s not that I saw a picture of her and immediately thought of how much I love her. I saw her and thought of who she was. By finding her in a magazine, she struck me as just another person. My mind had to build her from the ground up. All the times she was tired of dealing with our crap. All the years she spent teachings us. All the things she has not accomplished because of us, choosing to do so with a smile. And it was these thoughts of her that made me come to the conclusion that I love her.
I spent the day with my brother and sister. For us, we’re both parting ways. Not only am I leaving them, they’re leaving me (and for a long time at that). I told them that most often, when it’s time to say goodbye, people think that it ought to be a ceremonial sort of thing. There ought to be a last gathering dedicated to saying goodbye and how great each person is. But, I said, I feel like those sorts of things are inferior to simply being with each other, whether it’s in silence or talking. In dedication, I have found that I am so often forced to feel things that I don’t. Very often, I don’t cry at funerals. I cry a month later or the night before.
I have made a conceited effort in the past year to justify my cold heart. I have told myself that change is thrilling, exciting, and nothing but happiness. Goodbyes are the mark of a new beginning. Get over yourself and stop feeling sorry.
But, which person is more accepting of change? The person who refuses to acknowledge how it makes them feel? Or, the person who accepts that change always affects us in some way? If I don’t feel like crying, then I am not sad. If I don’t feel like crying, I don’t know that I’m sad. If I am crying, I ought to cry. Of course, the feeling causes us to do more and less than cry.
If there is one thing I have learned from change, it is that it’s highly disorienting. Perhaps, that’s the greatest attribute of change. It’s not scary, or sad, or cool, or oppressive, or liberating, or frustrating. It’s all of these. We don’t know how to feel. We only experience constant emotional states when there are constants working on us. The constant in a time of change is a changing emotional state.
There are goodbyes and there are changes, but there is also forgetting. With people, these three things usually go hand in hand. When you see someone you haven’t seen in awhile, you forget their person. You don’t know how to act around them. It’s like you’ve never met. They are new again. You are either smiling like an idiot whenever they give you eye contact, or you sit there in awkward silence.
One of the greatest joys in life is being able to communicate with another soul. It happens rarely, but every now and then something will come out of your mouth or out of your eyes that affects someone else deeply. When they say, “Yeah man, I completely agree” or they return the eye contact, you feel like you are sharing something metaphysical with them. And, for a season, we gravitate around each other. We look forward to each other’s company. We want more of it.
But, when it’s time to say goodbye, we are not just saying goodbye to the person, we are also saying goodbye to being aware of their presence. We no longer feel like they are near. They become cold and distant. The only communication we have with them is thin and sterile, coming through wires. It’s not warm and close.
And that is, perhaps, the most sorrowful thing about saying goodbye. To forget how someone else feels. And to know that they have forgotten what you are like. You are either exalted, with all of your faults wiped away, or are categorized as a distant relative. Sometimes, we don’t even care to see them, because we forget the satisfaction. It takes time to build deep relationships. And it’s gut-wrenching to say hello to them after a goodbye and realize that it’s just not the same.
For this reason only, I would avoid goodbyes as much as possible. The idea of losing someone like that is unbearable.
But, we all lose each other like that at some point. We don’t lose people. We lose relationships. And the time right before the final goodbye, we realize how precious it is to simply be with them. To exist in the same place. Isn’t it boring to just sit and talk? Or just sit in silence?
I can think of nothing more pleasurable than to do it with you, Mom and Dad. Or with you, David and Fionn. Or with Anna and Nate and Zach and Josiah and Gracie. Let’s just avoid hurting each other when we’re sitting together.
And, just like that, a season of our own lives is gone. And passing with it is a season of our lives spent together. The relationships become different things. Yes, we may see each other again. But, after every goodbye, it changes. We have to get to know each other again.
I like to have things that let me remember a lost time. When I look at my souvenirs from going to Michigan, I don’t see an awful model of the Mayflower. I see myself as a little boy saving all my money for one. I see the entire family vacation. I’m digging in the sand and making the same bridge design I made the year before. All the children are unmarried and pale, but too indifferent to put on sunscreen. Dave and Nate are out on the water, going too far, and Dad is calling out to them, while Mom is biting her nails. Josiah is destroying Zach’s sand art and Grace is tumbling inside Mom’s belly.
Now there’s someone tumbling inside Anna’s belly. How am I supposed to wrap my head around that? Zach is married and Nate owns a house. How is any of this possible? And all the relationships have turned into something else. Thank God for preserving the people I love through this strange metamorphoses. May we increase in depth and complexity, qualities admirable in wine.
But goodbyes still hurt. And I still don’t know how to deal with them. Whatever the time dictates, I suppose. It dictates randomly and cruelly. It will hit you like a ton of bricks at times and at others, you will feel nothing at all. For those who are not in control, the only thing to do is embrace the people we cherish with the time that we’re given.
And I will never like goodbyes.