Many years ago I was intrigued to learn this common expression was a slang condensation of the phrase “God be with you.” Since that time we have shortened it even more to a simple, “Bye.”
Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “I’m not good at goodbyes.” But of course, who is? Especially when the parties involved think it may be . . . the final goodbye.
As the firemen wheeled me out on a stretcher that ominous Tuesday morning I knew I could be experiencing my last few breaths; at least, the thought went through my mind. And I considered whether or not to stop the whole entourage of first responders so that I could tell my wife I loved her, and to voice that difficult expression, “Goodbye.”
But the moment escaped me as I was caught up in the individual drama of my own heart attack pain; I began trying to focus on settling myself down, and leaning in to what I hoped and prayed would be a successful resolution to this unexpected life and death crisis.
But it haunted me. Not getting to say, “I love you” one last time; not getting to say, “Goodbye.” And I wondered if I’d blundered the last moment of my life, being so focused on myself.
When one of my daughters returned to the house many hours later she was confronted with what felt like a crime scene to her: the bed where I had writhed in pain; the disheveled sheet and blanket; damp wash cloths on the floor; the subtle evidences that a large group of strangers had been in the house. It unnerved her.
It shouted a “goodbye” – almost frozen in time.
When a soldier goes off to war he kisses his sweetheart. When a cancer patient goes into surgery he/she gives one final squeeze to his/her loved one’s hand. Because whether or not we think we are “good” at goodbyes, we are convinced of their importance, we are obedient to their invitation. We want desperately to have said, “farewell,” if at all possible.
And so . . . my omission haunts me.
Not so much with a feeling of guilt as with a renewed awareness that moments of finality escape us more often than not. We envision our final breaths as in a motion picture; that is, we see ourselves surrounded by family and friends, and in those final moments we are speaking our last words of wisdom and love.
But that is far from how it usually plays out. We are in a coma. Or a car crash takes us in seconds. Or a heart attack immediately shuts us down, and like the computer screen in front of you everything goes dark, or the Operating System crashes and even though something is still on the screen it is lifeless, frozen in time.
It has often been said that we should live as if each day was our last, because, in fact, it may truly be our last. But our busy lives make that sentiment last only a while; it is never permanent. Then we go about our lives business-as-usual . . . until the next tragedy gets our attention.
I wonder . . . is it possible to make each “Hello” as important as each “Goodbye.” And rather than focusing on the FINAL goodbye, perhaps we should focus on each and every goodbye. How is this possible?
I wonder if the answer is simple. I wonder if all that is needed is not an awareness of our final moments (like an actor practiced in the execution of a closing soliloquy) since most of us will not be aware when that moment is actually upon us. Rather, maybe all we need is to learn to be fully present and genuine each time we say, “Goodbye.”
No clairvoyance needed. No premonition.
Just every day living and loving. Kermit the Frog had it right: “Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it.”
I will try to forgive myself for not saying, “Goodbye,” before the ambulance ventured off into my unknown destiny. Instead, I will try to rehearse each day the truth I have learned, i.e. that a relationship is not honored so much in a final goodbye as it is in the countless hellos and goodbyes of everyday life. Make each one genuine.
One of them will be your last.