Sometimes, I like angel food cake. It’s not my favorite cake, however. That would be yellow cake with chocolate frosting. When I’m not eating one of Nancy’s pies.
My mother, however, was sure that angel food was my favorite, and she made it often when we were coming to visit. I ate as much as I could, to be grateful. But the cake represented who I was at one point, not who I was forever.
I’ve been thinking about the permanence and impermanence of saying goodbye in the modern era. I watch many goodbyes at the hospital, where people literally see each other for the last time on this earth. Or they just miss it.
I hear people talk about making the most of the time we have, of keeping short accounts with people.
And I’m wondering if we undervalue the significance of saying goodbye as if we will never see each other again. And then being done.
While he was on his way to Jerusalem for his last time as a freeman, Paul asked the church leaders from Ephesus to meet him in Miletus. By land, the towns were about 60 miles apart.
Paul lived in Ephesus for three years, and when the elders arrived, he reviewed what he had done and what they knew. And then Paul says this: Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Paul’s responsibility was done. He handed it back to God.
In the old days, the days before infinite linking, we valued the greeting and we valued the goodbye. And we assumed that in between, things would change.
Now, we can connect with people from every part of our past and present. And often that is remarkable. I love seeing the interaction between those people. However, I also am aware that there are invisible threads of opportunity and obligation, hung with tags of what I should remember and lists of what I should continue to know that wind around my thoughts and sometimes trip me.
There is who I was, and who I am becoming, and who I will be. There is what I was responsible to know back then and what I am no longer responsible to know. There is what I did because I am loyal which is often different that what I did because I loved it.
This essay is not a veiled message of farewell to anyone or anywhere. It’s mostly a word to myself. But I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who might benefit from a simple and heartfelt goodbye to people and places that linger longer than is helpful.
First published in 2017.