I’ve said goodbye a lot in my life. To people. To things. To houses and places. Some I’ve been sorry to leave; others, not. Some left me. It’s all goodbying, though, whether you open the door or someone else does. What matters is how you feel when you walk through the door. It also matters – perhaps even more – how you feel and what you do on the other side of that threshold.
Are you looking back, or are you looking ahead? Maybe you have regrets, or sadness. Perhaps you regret not leaving sooner, or you regret leaving at all. But leave you did.
The past can hold you, if you let it, and entrap you, like a sticky web. Maybe the past is lonely, since we’re always leaving it, moment by moment, day by day. Because of that loneliness, it will conspire with your memories to keep you, and draw you back.
I try not to let that happen, just as I try to “live in the moment,” a popular concept in these times. I’m not always successful at living just in this moment, and then this one, and this one, because the past is always calling, and the future always beckons. I know it’s false to tell myself that the past was awful, but the future will be golden. Or vice versa. It’s always some jumbled mix of awful and golden, separated by periods of transition, if not equanimity.
If I could make golden happen, you know I would. So would you. I don’t expect it all the time, though. In fact, I’m often surprised when such a moment happens; so much so, that I forget to give thanks to whomever or whatever helped cause it. Not being the religious sort, I ascribe such things to the forces of Chance or Fortune.
Then again, it might be the work of the Fates, whose tasks are to spin out the thread of life, determine its length, and then to decide how and when to cut it. If you believe that, then you believe that the whole scheme of life is really out of our hands, since how long we have to live, and the manner and time of our death, have already been determined.
I don’t think that’s true. We have the power to choose, and what we choose determines what happens next. That’s Consequence, not Fate. Still, I do see life as a set of vast, interlocking cycles; rather like the Mayan calendar, but which are beyond our ability to comprehend or predict, at least at this point in our evolution. As a result of the way in which the cycles mesh, things happen, opportunities arise, people come and go. You can call these occurrences curses, or you can call them blessings. Either way, they’re not just beyond our ability to predict; they’re beyond our ability to control. The power we do have rests in our ability to make choices: to stay, or to go; to love, or to give up on love; to live, or to give up on life.
There’s a restlessness at the heart of my life – an empty space filled with goodbyes and unfinished stories. An aching need is also there: a need for love, a need for home, a need for connection; a need for the restlessness to end. The thing is, I don’t believe it will ever end. If the past is a template for the future, then that’s the only conclusion I can draw. I know – I know – the past doesn’t have to define the future. That’s what we all want to believe. Like the fine print in personal injury or investment advertisements: “Past results are no guarantee of future returns.”
And, as I wrote above, I believe we have the power of choice, even if the choices don’t always seem particularly appealing.
Still … my life thus far casts something of a shadow over my optimism, especially on gray, chilly mornings like one in which I’m writing this. I guess a shaded optimism is better than all shade and no optimism, though.
Ugly things lie in wait down that road. I know. I’ve been there, hoping I can get through the night without doing something unfortunate and irreversible to myself. When optimism fails, when hope is a chimera, it’s important to have something outside yourself to which you can hold fast. It really doesn’t matter what it is, so long as you can hold on to it, and not let go: a memory, an icon or a photograph, or your desire to see the sun come up. For me, it was my daughters, but anything will do, if it keeps you from that last goodbye.
Nevertheless, a last goodbye does await all of us. When the cycles click together in a certain way, at a certain moment, we will leave, whether we’ve said goodbye or not, whether we have unfinished business or not. That’s Chance at work. We can hasten the day, but we cannot delay it.
I’m at a place in my life from which that final goodbye is becoming more visible. I know it’s looming up there in the clouded future somewhere. Lying in wait, as it has lain in wait at other times in my life. I avoided its grasp years ago, for reasons that are not completely clear to me, but that have to do, I imagine, with Chance, if nothing else. I don’t feel so special as to believe that I was spared for some higher, altruistic purpose. No – I survived, and have lived, and loved, and said goodbye, over and over again.
Because of all that living and loving and goodbying, I feel more keenly now the press of time. Tempus fugit, and all that. I used to jokingly translate that phrase as “time fidgets,” but it is we who fidget, not time. The original phrase (from a poem by Virgil) is, fugit inreparabile tempus: “it escapes, irretrievable time.”
Irretrievable. It’s a word that puts a fine point on the questions of, “What are we doing, and why?” I suppose you could also ask, “What’s the point?” For some, it’s living in a certain way, so as to insure your passage through the Pearly Gates. For others, it’s living in a certain way, so as to have a better life after reincarnation. Believing in neither Pearly Gates nor reincarnation, I am left with only this life, and I am left with love. Since I cannot give life – not in the saintly or godly way – I can only give love, and hope to receive it in kind. As anyone over the age of twelve knows, that doesn’t always happen. However, I suppose my optimism isn’t all that shaded after all, as I continue to live, and to love: fully and optimistically.
We have the power of choice, but what other choice do we have, but to live, and to love, and to carry on as though the end is not looming over us all? I have lived my life as though I was not in danger of dying, but that clearly is not the case. Nevertheless, I continue to choose life and love, and, insofar as I have faith in something, I have faith in those two things, and in the incipient possibilities that they hold for us, whether we say goodbye or not.