THE BEATLES tried to explain it:
You say Yes; I say No.
You say Stop; I say Go.
Oh no. You say Goodbye; I say Hello, hello, hello.
What do those words mean? If you know, please tell me. After those opening lines, the rest of the lyrics are nonsense, too. The lesson I take away? We’re often tragically confused in the signs we show the world—because we’re often confused about what we really want to express.
We can’t avoid the challenge this weekend! Memorial weekend explodes with millions of Hellos and Goodbyes. On campuses coast to coast, students and teachers are saying Goodbye. We’re saying Hello to summer. We’re trying to summon proper farewells for our service men and women who left us without a Goodbye. We’re hitting the road to visit friends and family.
Hello? Goodbye? May these four snapshots help you discern what lies ahead for all of us.
- THE LONG GOODBYE
Mom would gently hold each of our faces between her gnarled, distorted hands, give us a kiss on the nose, followed by a huge smile. To my wife, our two young daughters and I, Mom would say, “Oh, thank you for coming to visit.” She was so animated with joy that she wanted to jump and clap, but her rheumatoid arthritic body would never permit a single jump. Then she put before us too much food; we laughed and ate with delight. Mom made every effort to enjoy us and to deny her constant physical pain and limitations. Then, like the buzzer at half time in a basketball game, my mother’s internal alarm announced the mid-point of our visit with a simple question that begged a different answer, “When do you need to leave?” My answer: “Mom, you know when we leave.” The second half commenced. Her mood and tone now combined anger with a pleading cry: “You never stay long enough.” The second half of the visit was marked with tears and groans about her constant, unremitting pain. Every visit had two halves: the first filled with joy, the second with pain. Perhaps this was her only way of saying goodbye. When does Hello change to Goodbye for you?
- DO NOT GO GENTLE
Numerous times in my life I have walked part way to eternity with another person. Each walk is different. Each walk is similar. Each person expresses concern about what they will miss when they are gone: births, marriages, graduations, eating hot dogs with a grandchild at a ball game, music, sitting with a loved one on a porch. The list seems endless. Some do go gently into the night—while others rattle or smash every teacup. A few go without regrets, certainly not all. Many hang on against all odds until the last child or close friend has come to squeeze their hand, kiss their forehead or say a simple goodbye, “I love you and will miss you.” Goodbye can never be fully expressed in words. So we rely on the language deeper than words, the language of tears, gentle hugs and the simple, but profound, squeeze of another’s hand. The truth is: We are always saying Goodbye to someone. It’s part of each life. How do you hope to express Goodbye?
- HELLO. HELLO. I WASN’T READY TO SAY …
I was young—full of life’s Hellos—when John and I played basketball on the sloping, gravel driveway in front of his barn. The net-less hoop was a little cockeyed. We played in all kinds of weather including the bitter, damp cold that turned the ball into a brick and our hands into popsicles. We liked the competition and the camaraderie, the laughter and challenges of pushing each other. We were school chums who hustled the hoops to keep us warm against the bitter winters. High school graduation sent us off to different colleges with our closing banter, “Hey, goof ball, have fun!” “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” “See you at Christmas!” Then, he and two other guys were in a car that careened into a tree. Has life shown you the precious nature of each and every Hello?
- WE MAY NEED MORE WORDS
We could all switch to Shalom. In the original Hebrew or Salaam in Arabic, the word says it all: peace, wholeness, safety, hello and goodbye. But I’m leaning toward another choice: Two words. Just the other day, I stood before a mirror washing and drying my hands, half watching the man quietly cleaning the restroom. His hair was very black, not a strand of grey; his skin, olive in tint. His short, stocky frame was bent from hard labor, I suspected, more than years. He was focused and thorough as he cleaned. “Thank you for your work,” I said, half surprising myself that I said it. I added, “The room is very clean. He did not respond. I tried, “Gracias Señor, por el trabajo aqui. El baño es muy limpio.” Then, he turned with a wry smile. “I am not Hispanic, sir. Very few people ever speak to me. I am sorry I did not respond to you.” “I am sorry that so few people acknowledge you and your work,” I said as I turned to face him. “You do not need to apologize for not responding. Your work makes my life more comfortable and I just wanted to tell you that I appreciate it.” I turned back to the sink and wiped the water I had splashed around the edges with my paper towel. I noticed he was standing more erect and watching me as I viewed him in the mirror. He smiled, “You do good work, too. I rarely see someone wipe the sink clean. Thank you.” We smiled at each other in the mirror. The door to the restroom squeaked as another man entered. He turned back to his work. I walked toward the door, softly repeating those two words: “Thank you.”