For whatever reason I have consistently been able to say goodbye well. This doesn’t make goodbyes easy to do or say for me, but I have been blessed in being able to end relationships and chapters in my life with healthy closure.
When you grow up in a community where the population is basically 98% white, you really miss out on some of the enhancing elements of other ethnicities and cultures. So when I came in contact with anyone that was different than me, I was instantly intrigued. Perhaps no more so than on the first day of seventh grade when a puffy-haired, quiet Japanese boy walked in late to my first class, Percussion. I don’t believe we had assigned seats at the time, but we were all sitting in two rows of plastic band chairs. There was an empty seat beside me. When he walked in I could tell he was a bit overwhelmed, eyes scattering to and fro. I wanted him to sit next to me. I motioned for him to come sit in the empty chair next to me. His eyes caught mine, noticed the empty chair, and he started over my way.
This Japanese boy would soon become my window into another culture. The Japanese culture. As I helped him with his basic English, he taught me some Japanese words. As it turned out, we also had Home Economics together. We made cookies and even Hungarian Bubble Loafs together. We became friends, and as it turned out he would influence me in some pretty dramatic ways.
In the middle of my freshman year of high school, my Japanese friend told me that he had to go back to Japan. His dad’s company wanted him to go back, and so they had to leave before the school year ended. I was pretty sad about this. He really had become a friend of mine. We had been in marching band and other percussion groups together. I had even started taking Japanese at my high school, as well as some of my other friends who had gotten to know him.
The time eventually came for him to get ready to go back to Japan. A group of friends of mine threw a small party for him. But before he left, I wanted to let him know how much I appreciated him as a friend. I wrote a long letter (like 5-7 pages) reflecting on our friendship and how he had impacted my life. It was my way of accepting that we had to say goodbye. It was my way of honoring my dear friend. Hopefully it meant as much to him as it did to me.
That was really my first goodbye of any real sense. I do remember moving from Omaha, Nebraska to Indianapolis when I was five. We left our families behind and moved into a new chapter of life. But I was five. And all I remember was being excited about moving into a new house and making new friends.
My closest friends from high school I still have not had to say goodbye to. Although we took different college and career paths we have nearly all moved up into the same area together, able to see each other on a fairly regular basis. Of course Facebook has made things easy for keeping up with many people, feeling like you never really have to say goodbye. It’s more of a “see you later.”
The week before I graduated from college I wrote individual letters to every professor I had recounting the classes they taught, and what I took away from their classes. I went around to all their offices and individually thanked them for their impact in my life.
By the end of my senior year in college I had made some close friends. And all of us were going in completely different parts of the world. One moved to central Florida, one to LA, one to France, one to Texas. But we were able to spend the last semester having fun with one another, meeting nearly every friday to hang out and play games.
School is always hard because if you make friends that are older than you, you will have to say goodbye to them sooner than those of your own year. If you make friends that are younger than you, you will have to say goodbye to them before they graduate. So making friends knowing that you will have to say goodbye before you want to can hinder the relationship. But if you know that you only have eight months together, you can either make the decision to take advantage of the precious time that you have, or to stay disengaged. I always try and choose taking advantage of the time I have. It could potentially set me up for be very sad when we have to say goodbye, but I probably would be even more disappointed knowing that I never really took the effort to be a close friend with people because I knew we’d have to say goodbye.
I just graduated from graduate school. I have invested a lot of time and energy into this school and student body. My situation is a bit muddled because I just graduated with my Master of Divinity, but am also continuing with an MA in Counseling. So I am saying goodbye in one sense, but hello in another. I was wondering how I was going to put good closure on this degree because I’ll still be around for another one. I wanted to end well, to close this period of my life cleanly. I didn’t really know how it was going to work. But then, within a few weeks of graduation I was asked to give a testimony of my time here at TEDS in chapel and then I was asked to give the student response of thanks at graduation. And before I knew it I was once again able to give a proclamation of my reflections and thanks to the professors, friends, and mentors that have influenced me so deeply while attending school here. I was able to say goodbye, and to say it well.
In a sense, meeting my Japanese friend was a hello, but it was also the beginning of learning how to say goodbye. In no small part because of this friend, my wife and I and another friend from middle school (who was also in our Home Economics class) will be traveling to Japan to serve as missionaries. I have been there three times, and even got engaged to my wife over there. I didn’t know it at the time, but meeting that friend of mine in seventh grade was really the beginning of saying goodbye to the life I know here in the United States. Hopefully when the time comes, I’ll get to say goodbye well to America and all my friends that I’ll be leaving behind.