Grateful Goodbyes

Proud Papa dedicating his first granddaughter at Bethany Community Church.

Proud Papa dedicating his first granddaughter at Bethany Community Church.

Here are the hard goodbyes
Love you ’til the day I die
Here’s where regrets all fade
Into the light from which you’re made

And here is the warm sand
Sifting through your perfect hand
Here’s where you laugh again
In the memory of a friend

And here’s where you find the truth
It’s the heart and soul of you
Here’s where the body fades
Beautiful in every way

Here’s where the songs we’ve sung
Weave into the constant one
Turn all your fears to love
There is nothing left undone

Julia Massey, from “Here Is A Stone Wall”

Goodbyes are knit into a teacher’s existence. At the end of each school year, we watch some leave forever, and mourn the quieter endings of sweet, intricate classroom communities, built of shared words, spoken and read. The kids depart and I grade the last essays, bringing the year to a stumbling halt, like running down the stairs in the dark, when you forget how many stairs there are. Seven years out of nine (everyone has rough years–mine were the first two), I’ve thought a little sadly that I won’t love any class more than the one I just finished with. All that investment, all those hours, and they’ve moved on, leaving me behind. But then August comes, and usually between September and December I fall in love all over again. Hello and goodbye.

And because I was a teacher for a long time, and a student for ages before that, perhaps part of me thought I’d get out of the goodbyes, just for one year. That somehow I was taking a break from not only the planning and grading and disciplining, but from the adapting and knowing and loving that comes with it. Not so, I find today, as we do one last load of laundry and pack our last bag, counting suitcase pounds like pennies in a piggybank. I’ve fallen in love again, and I’m saying goodbye. Again.

There’s a quote that goes around this time of year, Graduation Season, that goes “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I doubt that Winnie the Pooh actually said it, as it’s often attributed, but frankly it doesn’t matter. It’s true and beautiful, and today it’s exactly how I feel, sitting on my parents’ couch and watching the hard June rain soak Snoqualmie Pass one last time. It hasn’t been a year of classroom laughter and epiphanies, but it has been a good year.

I look ahead a few days, squinting past air travel with an infant, rental-car machinations and autobahns that will deliver us back to our village, and I know that it is also home. That we’re going, again, from one home to another, from one good to another good. How lucky we are, really, that we’re neither fleeing danger nor heading into exile, like so many are today. From home to home, love to love.

It’s still hard. We reach the end of our year at home with tightened bonds, strengthening the knots that tie us back to people and places an ocean away. I’m sad and thankful, excited and mournful, wondering how I could possibly have forgotten after all these years that beginnings come after endings.

Mostly I am grateful for a year. We once thought of it as an interruption, a tax-mandated pause in ministry, but this time has been infinitely more than that. It’s been a year of family. That lazy proximity to my parents and siblings that I’d been missing for five years, space to know one another again, and for them to know my husband and now daughter. It’s been a year of time. Time to think, to rest, to write, to prepare, to love. So much time that it seemed endless at points, until it wasn’t. Until today.

We take last photos, give last hugs, and say goodbye. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again, the sweet cost of loving. A family, a home, a year. And I am so grateful.

This is my family, sharing Thanksgiving in June on our last night in Washington. I miss them already.

This is my family, sharing Thanksgiving in June on our last night in Washington. I miss them already.

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