Tough Goodbyes

“You know, I used to hate goodbyes. Whenever I taught my last class or when we moved to a new city, those final goodbyes used to wrench my heart. But then I realized that there is no goodbye for much of what we do. When I left one place, I took everything I’d learned before and all the good ideas that were tucked into my brain and all the good friends that were tucked in my heart, and I brought it all forward with me — and it became part of what I did next.”   -Elizabeth Warren

Thank you, Elizabeth Warren, for saying so beautifully what passages in life can mean. Goodbyes can elicit a gamut of reactions —pain, relief, or sheer astonishment  at finding oneself actually in that moment where life changes. Turning away after a car disappears around the corner, or a loved one disappears into the crowd at the station, somehow the air feels different and the world is tilting slightly.  When we’re the one inside the car, or settling into the train or airplane seat, we’re processing the goodbye too, though it always feels a little different when we’re doing the leaving rather than the staying.

Goodbyes are doorways through which we pass from the predictable to the unpredictable. Maybe that’s why they are so much harder for some people. It can be hard to have Warren’s confidence that the love and learning we’ve amassed will be all we need to launch ourselves into the unknown. It’s all that much harder when we don’t have much practice surviving tough goodbyes.

We stay when we should leave, we tolerate when we should protest, we shrink when we should surge. We avoid the  end of a  bad marriage, a toxic friendship, a soul- crushing or dead end job, but when finally we make a move, we discover that just the act of leaving has added immeasurable clarity and strength to the person we are  I’m not in favor of practicing goodbye by throwing out what’s working, or arguing that the agony of losing loved ones is a good thing,  but surviving tough goodbyes is one of the  best life-building practices I know.

I have survived everything life has thrown my way, and I have managed in the end—not always easily and not always quickly— to thrive. Who I am right now, as Warren says,  gets rolled into how I perceive and handle whatever comes next. I may not be thrilled to face a new challenge,  but I trust myself to make a good call each step of the way—maybe in hindsight not necessarily the best option, but one that got me through.

The answer to life’s challenges can’t be to avoid goodbyes. It starts with trusting hello.