The hardest part of saying ‘hi’ is that one day, inevitably, you will have to say goodbye. I was thinking of this the moment that I met my new assistant. I was also thinking this at the beginning of every friendship and relationship I’ve ever experienced. Maybe that means that I am a pessimist. But maybe it just means I see the big picture, and I’m a realist. Whatever it means, it doesn’t mean I’m special, depressed, or crazy. And although it sounds a little negative, it doesn’t mean that I am without hope.
My mom said goodbye to my father when he took his last breath. My stepfather and I said goodbye to my mom as she took her last gasp of life. Goodbyes are as much a part of hello as life is to death, light is to dark, and happiness is to sorrow. Without question, goodbyes are the hardest part of life.
When a mom takes her child into his first day of Kindergarten, when she helps him move into his dorm, when she watches as he takes vows to his wife, these are all goodbyes that build up to the biggest goodbye of all; the one where hello never happens again. When the first frost seals the earth under ice, or the last leaf falls to the ground, there are more goodbyes that will eventually lead to more hellos. Each season, each person, each relationship, each friendship, each day, each moment has its own beginning and its own end. In life, the hardest part is the endings, the final chapters, the changes, the breaking of hearts, and the loss of hope that ultimately leads to new beginnings, and new hopes.
I like to think of us as trees in this way. My freshman year of high school, our English teacher gave us the assignment of writing from the perspective of a tree of our choice. In retrospect, I could’ve been a smartass and written ‘ouch’ on the sheet of paper, I guess. But instead, I chose to be a cactus. I thought that was a clever choice. I mean, being a cactus has its advantages if you really think about it. It’s self-contained and independent, requiring very little rain, low maintenance, a tiny amount of moisture, and almost no nutrients. Yet it thrives in a barren desert, with only a few companions. It also has the built in protection of thistles; pokey little reminders that to get close, one could get hurt. It protects itself from strangers trying to uproot it from its comfort zone. But a cactus is lonely. And in my older age, I would choose differently, no matter how much I would like to believe I can fly solo and be just fine.
Today I would choose to be something more like an Oak. Oaks have rings, which is how scientists gauge their ages. Rings are subtle reminders of beginnings and endings, like wrinkles. Forest fires bring death so that birth can transcend goodbyes and lead to more hellos.
What I’ve learned from so many goodbyes is that I can’t lie down in an attempt to avoid the hellos. Every goodbye builds character. I heard someone say this once. If this is true, many of us have more character than we know how to handle. And that is okay. At the point in our lives where we say our final goodbyes, we will hopefully be able to look around the room and see all the many hellos we’ve had throughout life. Those give us full lives. They are the very reason it’s hard to let go, but they’re also the very reason we kept fighting against this goodbye. They are the ones that keep living with the memories of that first hello when we entered their lives.
No matter how bad the pain that followed the farewells, each life enriches us, teaches us, builds and wrinkles us into fulfillment. So in a sense, the hardest part is also the most satisfying, the most beautiful, but also the most meaningful.
We will all be uprooted eventually, but the rings tell our stories, and the other ‘trees’ get to tell those, so that they too can share the legacy of hello and goodbye. Life goes on, until it doesn’t, but it’s the growth that measures and defines us in the end.