Written for the Freeman on January 23, 2011
by Nancy Unchuan Toledo
I’ve never liked goodbyes. Or well, to be more accurate, I don’t like about 90% of the goodbyes I’ve said in my life. The 10% accounts for people I never got close to or I never got along with. But that 90%… that 90% was mighty painful. That 90% included family members, close friends and students that have gone in and out of my life. We live in a generation of mass migrations and impermanent situations. Some are destined to leave. And some are destined to be left behind. More often than not, I find myself in the latter group.
And so it has not been easy for me to watch those whom I love go on and do other things and live lives that do not include me. Just last weekend I had to go through the painful process of saying goodbye to my sister and her children. True, there is Facebook and Skype and she is technically just a phone call away. But I cannot give her kids a hug over the phone or a goodnight kiss. And who knows when I’ll see them next? They might be angst-ridden teenagers by then.
And then too, over that eventful weekend, I met up with some friends from college whom I hadn’t spoken to in 10 years. Ten years! And I used to spend every day with these people. And as I sat there having brunch with all of them, I realized what a rare opportunity it was to have them all together. And even as I laughed at jokes that were ten years old, there was a heavy feeling at the pit of my stomach because I had to leave later that afternoon.
All it takes is a weekend like that to drive home the point that everything is passing and that nothing is ever really permanent. People leave. Children grow up. Sometimes they come back. Sometimes they don’t keep in touch. And sometimes they surprise us and remain in our lives far longer than we could hope for. This impermanency and constant change would leave us crazy if we let it. But I’ve found that there are really only two ways to deal with it.
The first involves not being attached to anyone or anything at all. It is to live our lives never completely trusting anyone for fear that they might one day leave. It is to see the world as something that we can never quite fully grasp and so we do not try. We let things move on as they are supposed to and we do not allow ourselves to hang on too tightly. This seems a lot easier. Fewer heartaches. Fewer goodbyes.
The second seems to be a bit trickier. It is to live our lives believing that although many things are impermanent, some things are worth hanging on to. Some things and some people are worth holding on to, despite the distance, despite the effort, despite the sacrifice. The second way is to live life with the faith that no matter how many times we say goodbye to someone, we will meet again. That there will be a next time. That there is such a thing as forever and that there is such a time as eternity.
In my final year in college, one of my philosophy professors sent an email to all of his students. And in it he said (and I am translating here) that he knew that we would meet again. In some way or another. He didn’t say he wished it. Or he hoped for it. But that he knew it. And said it in such final way (as only professors can) that there was no room for argument. But there was such a beautiful promise waiting in that statement. A strong unexpressed faith that there would be a future meeting. In this life or the next.
I have not met him since. But I will. One day. Just as I know I will meet again all the people I’ve said goodbye to.