Goodbyes are rarely easy. As a child, I had difficulty in leaving places and people I liked. As an adult, I know the familiar feeling of gratitude swelling in my heart and tears welling up behind my eyes when it comes time to part ways with those I love or to end an experience that has been enriching.
I used to hate goodbyes, but I’ve come to appreciate the deep value they hold. Taking leave is a process that goes far beyond the act of simply saying goodbye; it’s bound up with the relationships we’ve built and lessons we’ve learned.
An ending, no matter how ready (or not) we are for it, provides a moment of pause. The end, just as the beginning, facilitates a time out of the ordinary; it is a time that offers perspective and grants an occasion for clarification of our own story and the place of a new experience in it. Like any good story, it has its ups and downs. Yet a closer reading offers insight into the nature of saying farewell.
Last year at this time we had to say goodbye to Chicago. A place I called home for twenty years. A place that forged many strong friendships and held strong place in my heart. When we moved, I thought we would never hold friendships so strong again. Those we said goodbye were considered the “family we choose”. I thought it would be impossible to meet people who build bonds like that again. Well, I was wrong.
We met the most amazing people on Guana who embraced our family. They taught us the ropes, picked us up when we were feeling lonely or confused, held our hand through traumatic events, offered faith and guidance to help us transition into island living. We built a deeper friendship than I thought would be possible for just one year. I don’t know if it is a function of the close proximity or just that we are kindred spirits magnetically drawn to this tiny island.
The painful heartbreak has returned again. We have to say goodbye to friends that have certainly left their marks on our heart. One of the things you sign up for here is that living here is not permanent. Inevitably, life presents new and awesome opportunities that carry us away to continue the journey that flows from living here.
Saying goodbye takes time and energy. Often it isn’t until you are finished in a place that the full effects of your time there become apparent. Endings can move quickly, but it is important to build in time to reflect on the process of saying goodbye. Many months later, the feelings around leaving may continue to catch up with you. There’s a grace in being open to these emotions. Whether you feel gratitude, loss or something else entirely, learning to honor your feelings and not just brush them aside in pursuit of the next thing is worthwhile as you leave and make a new beginning.
When you invest yourself somewhere, it’s important to take the same time and care that you’ve given in day-to-day interactions and apply it to your leaving. In a small community you feel a tremendous hole when saying goodbye to those who leave. Navigating the loss of a community, after all, is about navigating and tending to relationships. It requires the recognition that things change but also the recognition of the gift that has been and will continue to be.
I think of the beach walks with the fellow mother’s of the island. We always talked of the beauty of the simplicity of our lives . We have to embrace the short comings of living simple and turn them into positives. The simple living has grown on me and I feel more acquainted to the notion than ever before. You don’t have to keep a schedule, you are never in a rush, and people take time to engage with one another.
This engagement builds tremendous bonds. You grow interdependent on each others strengths and insights. You have more time to ponder life and situations and your faith. The Yorgason family was the first family we met on Guana. Kelli and her husband Andrew were one of the first few American families to move to the island and navigate the situation of sending children to another island to school, how to teach the children island ways and also they built a community of faith.
In the last few days of their time on the island they invited us to attend their church, a humble church, they call a “twig” instead of a normal branch. They welcomed us in to witness their faith and it was powerful. I was moved to tears and gave me strength in knowing that we are held in God’s grace. That with humility and faith we can overcome the most obstacles.
For days even weeks I mourned the loss of my dear friend Kelli when she and her family moved from the island. She was a quiet woman, small in stature but very powerful and large in spirit. She taught me generosity, openness, humor, lessons in motherhood and genuine and authentic kindness I rarely have encountered. My tears seemed endless, and it was hard to reckon with the fact that her family will leave is a large indelible hole.
Her three boys were a trio of fun loving curiosity. Wolfi really bonded over searching for hermit crabs, playing in the surf and running around playing pretend army. Losing them was very hard for Wolfgang as well.
Our island family gathered on the dock and clung to them wishing they didn’t have to leave, holding on to the leadership they provided unknowingly to all of us, they were a foundation in which we could all build upon. Waving at them as they set sail to their new American Life
There are cycles in life which we play, people and place cycle in and cycle out. We are called to try new possibilities breaking the rank of tired routines. Even though I am in pain losing them as neighbors I am explicitly happy for their new journey and new beginning. As this year so frequently has taught me, every ending is just a sign of new beginnings.