On this topic, I’m open to suggestions.
I have never liked the process or substance of the parting of ways and as a consequence, I’m lousy at it. Awkwardly bad. Embarrassingly bad.
The family legacy of the “bad goodbye” was my oldest sister Ann’s predictable tantrums as the moment approached for her to return to college in Portland from some short stay at home. My parents said that these outbursts were due to her mixed feelings of separation from her loving family of origin, so she needed to trump up some excuse to want to leave (have you noticed lately either a reluctance to use the term “trump up” even when it is appropriate to do so, or then again an eagerness to insert the term… I’m not sure what???). Well, that was their social worky analysis of what was happening related to teen separation anxiety. It could have been that just like any 17 year old, you can only handle the folks for so long before it is time to leave – again – the nest.
I don’t remember exactly getting into fights when I said goodbye to folks, but the theme for me has been much more the stress of not knowing how to sum up properly the positive experience of being together, or more simply, not liking anything about saying goodbye. If is was good to be with someone, why does it have to end, and if it wasn’t that good, what does one say?
Time and time again, I have failed at the goodbye. (Macabre alert… do not read the rest of this paragraph if you don’t have taste for the tasteless.) My classic and maximalist failure was to sort of say goodbye – poorly and incompletely – to my dying sister, Ann, at her bedside. Leaving to go to the car, I realized I had lost my car keys. A half dozen of us ended up searching her bed (with her in it), before my niece found that I had left the keys on the top of the car.
This trip to Israel has been filled with a weird kind of hybrid of saying goodbye or anticipating that saying. Three months is a definitive ending, yet it is a ways off. My fellow students in ulpan, my relatives who I can see see for multiple times, the folks at Bimkom where I am volunteering and others at choir or ping pong. Are these ongoing relationships or just preliminaries to a goodbye?
As I have already mentioned in a previous entry of this blog, my cousin Sybil from South Africa decided, after a conversation with me expressing my assessment of her sister Adele’s aged frailty, to come to Israel to see her sister in a nursing home. This was almost certain to be – but nothing is ever certain – the last time she would see her. So, in a manner, the opportunity to say goodbye. Sybil and I talked about what that meant to her and what similar experiences meant to me. I won’t discuss here the details. That is her privacy at stake. But the core question she faced, and most all of us face at one point or other, is how to say goodbye to someone important in our lives, when we think it is likely to be the last time together, but one may not be able to come right out and say it.
The experience of witnessing Sybil, in front of me and my wife Jean, Adele’s son Danny and his partner Shirley, taking on this task/opportunity to say something special and akin to goodbye, has been the emotional highlight of this trip. Sybil was magnificent. And so was Adele, rising to the occasion. Each acting in a unique (for them) and binding way.
The Israelis may not have figured this goodbye thing out. But I kinda like the Hebrew. The word for goodbye is Shalom. The word for hello is Shalom. The word for peace is Shalom. You can also say Lahitraot (see you again) or just Lahit, for short. But perhaps Shalom is the most comforting expression. It doesn’t HAVE to mean goodbye. And just like the elusiveness of peace in this volatile and always tense part of our world, we can always hope for another chance to fix what has been broken, and another chance to say hello.