Saying “goodbye” and “letting go” are not the same thing. Knowing the difference can mean everything to you.
Cutting ourselves loose from friends and intimates is something that we all must learn to do at some point in our lives, and it’s one of those things that there are no lessons for. We inevitably make mistakes.
Saying goodbye is difficult, but being said goodbye to is much harder, and that is what makes saying goodbye so hard to do. Deserved or not, we are all reluctant to hurt another. We tell ourselves it is for fear of reprisal and discomfort, but that’s not really true is it? We’re really afraid of being wrong, of hurting a good soul wrongly.
I hardly need to say that there are sound reasons for us to say goodbye to another, of removing him or her from our lives. People who hurt us, physically, mentally, emotionally, or those who are a danger to our growth and happiness must be removed—that‘s the no-brainer of goodbye.
Other times, we must accept the fact that we will grow apart from people we’ve had significant relationships with, and understand when someone no longer positively affects our lives. We owe it to ourselves not to let them hinder our growth.
As you move forward in life, you may need to change your circle of friends. Everyone around you isn’t interested in seeing you improve.
Still others may be positive forces in your life that you do not yet understand. Those that challenge you, lead you to face your demons, love you deeper than platitudes, or offer you things you are not ready for. These can be family, friends, or lovers. Saying goodbye to these important people can be more dangerous for you than any of the others. But how do you know?
The worst goodbyes are the ones that neither of you choose; circumstance does the choosing.
My childhood friend Pete was taller than I, a grade up from me, and went to a different elementary school. He was raw, guileless, and wildly creative; we were thick as thieves.
With Pete nothing was as it was, it was always something greater. I grew up in a rural suburb adjacent to a dairy farm and endless pastures. Pete lived just up the road. We were cornstalk fighting ninjas; jungle explorers searching for a lost Goddess; spear throwing aboriginals who flung thoughts with our spears; we braved bat nests and climbed mythic trees; we spent our idle times wondering what the world would be like if we lived it upside down, what colors smelled like and how sound tasted. Pete and I ruled our hundred-acre wood. We would return at dusk for dinner, drenched in glories.
There were only two summers before Pete’s family moved to Massachusetts. It may as well have been Asia. Our parents weren’t close friends and in those days, the only choice for a kid was pen pals. We both knew it wouldn’t due and agreed not too. I stood at the end of his driveway as he jumped into the rear of their packed station wagon. As the window closed I heard him say, “Aw.. goodbye Gar.” I never heard anything so final. He put his hands on the glass as they drove away—and the cord snapped. I kicked the roadside gravel all the way home in the late August dust. I never saw him again.
To this day, that is the image my mind carries as “goodbye”.
Even as an adult, I look to my friendship with Pete for teaching me where I thrive…imaginative, playful souls who cannot forget the child inside. My profession in the arts allows me to collect them, which is a privilege, but true connections are still rare.
When I grew up, goodbye was as final as a gunshot, if you didn’t have a number or address that was it. Today our vast virtual connections soften goodbye and makes it too easy a choice. We no longer need to decide, we just fade.
The saddest goodbyes are the ones never spoken. The ones where you never get to hear your crime; what you said, what you did, why you weren’t enough. There is a great difference between hurt and damage. This goodbye does damage. It is a cruelty that exposes what you are left to conclude was a lie; that you were ever truly close, that you ever truly mattered enough to warrant their discomfort. A goodbye needs to be spoken; there is no other way.
A woman I once loved beyond measure told me this before she left my life, “I have decided that you will be alright, that you will find someone just like me and that you will be fine, I know it.” As hard as it was to hear, it was one of the kindest, most loving things anyone has ever said to me. She knew the right way to say goodbye and cared enough to do it. It was her words that allowed me to move on.
Unspoken goodbyes land in me as betrayal. I’ve had my share.
I remember my first marriage counseling session, where after an initial forty-five minutes of me brightly bringing him up to speed on my life, my work, friendships and relationships (who doesn’t like to talk about themselves, right?), I looked up and saw him staring at me, then he said,
“Wow. So. You’ve dealt with a lot of betrayal in your life…”
“Say What?” It was an eye opener for me.
There was no sense or use in wearing that as an identity, but I have become smarter about recognizing it and learned that it is the denial of it that is dangerous. I know its effect now too, for me, it makes me numb and drains all the color from a person. (This feeling is ungood and unfair. Sometimes those who are heartless once cared too much.)
I will always choose to be hurt rather than betrayed. I think anyone would.
No matter if goodbye is your choice or another’s, you still both share it. It creates an absence only; it is then up to you to resolve it. Saying goodbye is different than letting go. You’re never done until you have cut the cords that connected you and bound you to each other.
Unresolved goodbyes eat your cells. They create a “dis-ease” and a host of stresses and mind-body trauma that many believe creates disease. In any case, it is decidedly unhealthy and must be dealt with. Literally dealt with, not mused over, denied and forgotten—that will put you in a cancer ward.
There is an ancient Hawaiian ritual called “Ho’oponopono” that I have used. It is considered a forgiveness ceremony. It is somewhat complicated and counter-intuitive so I won’t attempt to explain it here, but suffice it to say that these cords cannot be cut with anger, fear, or resentment. They can only be cut with love, compassion, and forgiveness. This is the way to let go. (Nothing is easy is it? Yeah, tell me about it.)
There is an advantage here, however, so cut those cords, cut all of them and don’t worry about whether you are wrong about goodbye or not, because an extraordinary thing will happen if you are. The cords you truly need will grow back. You may or may not have that person in your life again, as you or they choose, but those cords that represent truth will always reach and find their way back. Love is not diminished, like Shakespeare said, “It is an ever-fixed mark, that looks upon tempests and is not shaken.”
Don’t mistake this for an addiction to self-damage by way of repeated attraction to dangerous or abusive people. You must learn to discern this for yourself, and if you are one who does it—you must stop that.
I do a lot of reassessing after New Years so I’ve been thinking about all of my goodbyes, the ones I would be glad to have back and the ones I am glad I don’t. All of them, all together are easy now to picture. We are all within social media’s easy reach (though I have yet to find Pete). There are a number of them I have reclaimed, and still others I know I will yet. Even those that have passed on; I can still feel their presence. They’re all still here. So what is real, what is permanent?
If we could be honest with ourselves and face down the real lie, we would know this:
There is no such thing as goodbye.
There is only hello.
Where, and when, and whether you say it is always up to you.
As I have been thinking of my “disconnections” recently, a Beatles song keeps playing in my head—not “Let it Be”—it’s called “Hello, Goodbye”.