The Art of Saying Goodbye

Justin Davis

I hate goodbyes. I’ve never been good at them, they’re always uncomfortable, and they usually involve either complete emotional detachment or excessive sobbing (I tend to gravitate towards the latter). Also, they reveal one of my biggest fears. In life, I have two major fears/insecurities:

1)   Being a burden to other people

2)   Being abandoned

And while the first of these fears has been worked through and resolved through counseling, the second is still very real (and even been exacerbated in recent months). I don’t like being alone. I’m really good at being alone, and in certain regards, I occasionally enjoy being by myself. But even when I am left to my own devices, I’m either watching stupid YouTube videos (thereby feigning community) or have my head buried in a book. I always think too much when I’m alone, and if I don’t have some sort of release (whether it’s through this blog or annoying the hell out of my friends), then I often sink into a kind of depression. My relationships with my friends have always been of the utmost importance to me. I rely heavily upon them, which makes this time of my life especially difficult.

During the last few months, I’ve had to say goodbye to so many people. I’m leaving the town that I’ve lived in for over four years. On top of that, I’ve also had to move out of the house that I lived in throughout high school, as my parents move on to another chapter in their lives as well. I’ve watched as so many people that I know and cherish are slowly disseminating over the country. Now, I realize that the fact that people are moving on in life is not the same as them abandoning me, but my narcissistic brain can’t resist bringing my fear to the forefront of my mind. I was unexpectantly brought face to face with this reality a few weeks ago.

I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of my church one morning after the service. It was a beautiful day, and my stomach was unsurprisingly empty. Now, usually, I would call my friends (or ask the person sitting in the seat beside me) and see if they’d want to join me in picking up some food, hanging out, and maybe even spend an afternoon on the Parkway. Under my breath, I literally mumbled the words “Where do you want to eat,” and realized that there was literally no one to call. The seat beside of me remained despondently empty, and I suddenly broke into tears.

After four years of seeing each other nearly every day, we now have to grapple with the reality that we probably won’t see each other for a long time. We are seeds that are being scattered into the wind, which is makes it especially difficult when you know that your particular breeze will take you far away from the ones you love.

I’ve built a little life for myself in this sleepy college town, and the connections that I’ve made with friends, professors, business owners, and my church won’t be easily severed. It hurts to leave, to know that I won’t see them for a long time.

But despite all of this, I’m ready for it. I purposely spent an entire semester in Boone just so that I could spend as much time as I could with the wonderful people whom are a family to me. I’ve had enough time to emotionally prepare myself for this very moment. As I’ve slowly watched my friends leave, one by one, I’ve come to accept that I’m ready to leave this town as well. Without friends, this place feels hollow and empty. Sure, the views are amazing, and the little corners that I’ve carved out for myself still hold vestiges of the magic that once filled these walls. And that’s why it’s still difficult for me to move on. I’m comfortable where I am, and I have the nasty habit of holding onto the past, no matter how wonderful or tragic it may be. But I can’t keep living there, hoping that somehow the past few years will rewrite themselves anew.

I have to push myself to grow. And that’s why I have to go.

But traversing into the unknown is scary. There’s no way to anticipate what will come next. No amount of strategic planning or detailed scheduling can anticipate the interruption inherent within encountering the Real. Despite our best efforts to stay grounded and rooted within a particular place, system of belief, or group of people, life has a way of shuffling the deck every once in a while. And even if the future seems to hold nothing but bright sunshine and unadulterated fulfillment, life also has a way of showing us that these desires, even if they are fulfilled, will ultimately not satisfy us. So what can we do to press into this anxiety and learn to live alongside it?

We can learn to live in the present moment. By fearing the future and holding tightly to the past, I can very easily let the holiness of the present slip through my fingers. Instead, if I can learn to close my eyes, breathe in, breathe out, and open my clutched hands, then the present becomes that much sweeter.

For example, as I’m writing this section, I’m sitting here in my church, after the service has ended. Children are running around loudly with expectant joy. Friends embrace each other with genuine affection. The pastor lifts his daughter onto the stage as she shouts and giggles in excitement. She comes to me, tags me, and we proceed to chase each other down the aisles. A few minutes later, she laments with me that she cannot open a candy bar. We find her father and he opens it with a smile, and she looks at him, admiring her biggest hero.

This is a holy space.

These are the sacred moments we often miss when we become so fixated on what we might become. We often neglect our own process of “becoming,” yearning instead to narrowly project our desires onto an image of ourselves that we wish to one day become, not realizing that we are being molded in the very process. These holy moments are the ones by which we subconsciously react, respond, and grow. Recognizing these simple and seemingly mundane moments in life, unapologetically diving headfirst into them, and reveling in their mystery and unexpected sweetness (and occasional bitterness) is essential to pressing into our anxieties.

So yes, I am going to miss Boone terribly.

I will miss the way the soft breeze cascades over the mountains, through the grassy plains, and through my hair on a warm summer day.

 I’ll miss the gentle rivers, the shaded valleys, and the personality-filled livestock (yes, there were some days when those cows were the only ones who understood).

I’ll miss those hole-in-the-wall coffee shops, the basement burritos, and the usual cast of characters and smells at the Farmer’s Market.

I’ll miss the pretentious hipsters, the fledgling musicians on King Street, and yes, even the terrible speed bumps at Meadowview.

I’ll miss the smell of the Frasier furs down by the river in Valle Crucis, the absolute solitude and silence of my secret spot near West Jefferson, and the indescribable sunsets over the mountains at Grandfather.

I’ll miss the wildflowers that grow between the dusty roads and the wide, hilly pastures.

I’ll miss waking up to a tall apple tree that grows right outside of my window.

I’ll miss the long walks on Howard at 2:00 in the morning, the random instruments resounding in the art tunnel, and the cacophony that erupts at Capone’s and the Saloon on Taco Tuesdays.

I’ll miss how the freshly laden snow cascades down the rolling mountains, like a layer of soft vanilla icing upon the earthy surface.

But most of all, I’ll miss the wonderful souls that I’m leaving behind.

The professors who genuinely cared for my personal well-being and did everything they could to get me to this point in my academic career.

The church family who loved and baptized me, who showed me what love, grace, humility, and simplicity truly means.

And the friends who put up with all of my annoying questions, stupid mistakes, random philosophical thoughts, and occasional political/religious rants. They mean more than any words can begin to describe.

But by pressing into the sadness that I feel right now,

by refusing to run from or palliate the grief that threatens to overcome me,

by resisting the temptation to wipe the tears off of my cheek in the middle of this coffee shop that I’m now writing in (not gonna lie, it’s pretty embarrassing),

I can finally come to terms with what it means to say goodbye. That doesn’t make it any easier, but it definitely transforms into something truly beautiful and fulfilling.

Which, in my humble opinion, is well worth the tears.