Practicing Goodbye

Two weeks ago, I began grieving. No one close to me had died but I was grieving nonetheless. Two very special young people had come into my life and each, in their own way, had turned it upside down. When the time came for each of these very different people to take the next step in their separate and unique lives, I braced myself for the day when that step would take them away from me.

Just three short months ago, after plowing my way through everything I thought I could not live without and posting the rest for sale on Craigslist, I pulled together enough money to cover the cost of the move, packed up what was left, and said goodbye to a city that had been consistent only in its ability to find new ways to knock me down and to produce new friends to pick me up, some of whom I was just getting to know. Though I was no stranger to goodbyes, I naively believed this to be a sufficient dry run leading up to the one big goodbye when I leave for 27 months of services overseas.

My friend Rob drove the moving truck, leaving me alone in the Rover that was overflowing with my personal items and my personal thoughts. It seemed to drive itself the 270 miles from Cleveland to southwest Michigan as I reflected upon the friendships forged over the past three years and considered the short-term stint I would push through on my way to the Peace Corps. I promised myself that I would not “adopt” a young person in Michigan as I had a tendency to do in all of my travels. My time here would be short and my gaze was firmly fixed upon the future.

But God had other plans. Not one young person awaited me, but two. Still covered in road dust and gathering my bearings, I met the sweet and funny DK. She needed a big sister and I guess I needed a little sister. She pulled me into her heart and I lost the ability to choose not to love. Within two weeks of my arrival, I met the sensitive and thoughtful DP. He needed a teacher and apparently I needed a student. When I looked into his eyes, I saw not the emptiness I expected of one who had been deprived of education for more than two years. Instead, I saw warmth and sincerity. After a painful two years of being ignored by potential employers, I finally experienced bienvenido (welcome) from the heart of my new boss, a sixteen year old who was hungry to learn. Because he and I have something very obvious in common, the other students often asked if he was my son. I relished these moments because, in my heart, he is.

DK and DP accepted me into their lives knowing I would only be there temporarily. Distracted by the temporal nature of my own life, I gave no thought to how I would feel when the time came to say goodbye. I certainly did not consider that their departures might begin before mine, reminding me that these adoptions of the heart could only be done with arms open both to embrace and to let go. I had to let them go. DK packed up her belongings and left to brighten the life of someone else. DP made a very grownup decision, one that he believed to be best for him though it grieved both me and his real parents.

My plan for a sterile and unemotional period of Peace Corps preparation was interrupted and turned upside down. DK and DP knew that my time here was short but they counted the costs and chose to love me anyway. These two very young people taught me a very grownup lesson, one that will serve me well as I create a home and build relationships in the community that awaits me, knowing that goodbye is always imminent. The lesson came full circle this week as I reconnected with them both and was reminded that goodbye does not always mean gone. DK and I have decided to make Thursdays our day to spend together. And DP has decided to delay making any major life changes while he continues to learn and grow. The goodbyes have been delayed, just as they have been with the friendships I left in Cleveland, the friendships that continue to blossom.

Along with the Peace Corps uncertainties of when and where, come the relational uncertainties of with whom, for how long, how deep, and how real. I am learning to keep my heart open to loving people without demanding that they stay. There will be goodbyes, some of which will blossom into friendships from afar while others will simply mean gone. To be truly alive, I believe is to embrace them both.

As you read these words, I hope that you are disrupted by the image of someone in your life. Loving them might be inconvenient and messy but don’t ignore them because you think they are just passing through. Dare to love and dare to let go.

Grace & Peace,

Anita

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5 Comments »

  1. Ivy Bonk said

    Girlfriend – you definitely have a gift. I can’t wait to read the chronicles of the Peace Corps.

    We will miss you at residency, but somehow I think your mind will be far, far away on other things.

    Love you – Ivy!

  2. Liz Schmidt said

    *sighs*

    remembers with a smile the very few hours she got to spend with Anita…. and wants Anita to know that she is thought of fondly every single day…. and thinks this is one of the most touching pieces she’s ever read…. thank you Anita.

    love,
    liz

  3. Sandy B said

    Hi Anita – This is Sandy from your TMA days in NJ. John sent me the link to your blog. I commend your courage and commitment and congratulate you on being selected for the Peace Corps. How exciting! I am sure you will make a difference wherever you go. Best of luck.

    • Hi Sandy – Thank you so much for your kind words. I just found out that I am going to Panama for two years and I couldn’t be more pleased. I leave the states on August 12. I can’t figure out if I am more nervous or happy. The one thing that I’m sure of is that I’m more afraid of not going than I am of going. I realize that this kind of thing isn’t right for everyone but its perfect for me and I would be crazy to turn it down. I think of you often and remember you fondly!

  4. Susie said

    We of all people know not to say good-bye, only see you later. Later doesn’t have to be defined.

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