He just turned eighty-two last week. I called to wish him a happy birthday and to check in. Maybe it’s because change happens gradually, but to me, he doesn’t sound any different than he did when I called him thirty years ago on his fifty-second birthday. With a couple of changes, it could have been the same conversation. He is busy with his preaching duties, visiting parishioners in the hospital, just done with a city-wide meeting in which he participated. I tell him that the little girl is doing great, and growing fast. Thirty years ago, it was a different ministry for him. Then the girl was my own child, now she is one of my grandchildren. Time marches on.
The thing that catches my attention is his mention of death. I want to put it down to his advancing years, his realization that the count of years in front of him is narrowing, while the span behind is wide. But suddenly, I think about our conversation thirty years ago and remember that we spoke of death then also. He had laughed about his doctors and their pronunciation of a death sentence a few years prior, when he was in his late forties. “They gave me three years at the outside. I guess there is still a little more for me to do.” Then, he was pleased to have fooled the medical minds for five years. At eighty-two, he is still chuckling, realizing that he has now outlasted their predictions by some thirty-five years. But there is a different, almost somber, note that tempers his light-hearted comments. The knowledge that “it is appointed to a man once to die” is a sobering thing to an old man. He is ready, but not anxious for the event. “I think there may still be a little more to do, even now,” he reminds me before our conversation turns to other matters.
I have begun to realize, perhaps a little tardily you may think, that all of life is a series of goodbyes. My young friend, Andrew and I spoke of that yesterday, as he worked on a guitar in the music store. He is suddenly becoming aware that being a senior in high school means that many relationships which have been life-long will be coming to an abrupt end soon. He is wise beyond his years. At his age, I never gave it a second thought…couldn’t get done with school quickly enough. It wasn’t until many years later that it hit me; I haven’t seen most of my friends, the people who had been my whole life up to that point, since the day I walked across the platform to receive my diploma. The separation was instantaneous and unqualified. My young friend is aware of that coming reality and the prospect saddens him. I remind him that such is life, and that new friends will be made all through its years. He is not encouraged.
You see, we begin saying goodbye the day we are born. At no time in our lives will we be so dependent, so completely wrapped up in our need of people. But, each new milestone–rolling over, crawling, walking, eating with utensils–every achievement without exception, leads to independence, but it also leads inexorably and unfailingly to that time when we fly from the nest, declaring our emancipation and saying “Goodbye.” In some ways, as children, we can’t wait for the day. As parents, we dread the day, almost as much as we exult in it. The goal is achieved! The tiny baby, completely dependent on us for every single need to be satisfied, has, both physically and emotionally, achieved the stature which was intended, and for which we labored. The goodbyes are unbelievably sad, but the satisfaction of completing our task is immensely gratifying.
In all of our relationships, we understand that the day will come when we either say goodby mutually, or one of us is left behind to say it. It would be such a depressing subject, but for what follows the goodbye. If you have left one place for another before, you will understand. The feeling of loss is quickly replaced by the excitement of discovery as new friends are made, new places are revealed, and new memories begin to pile up behind us once more.
“Goodbye” simply means that “Hello” is on the horizon!
I remember hearing the quote in “The Sound Of Music”: “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” I used to think that it was thin comfort. That said, life’s experiences have shown that it is not maudlin at all, but immensely comforting to know that happiness follows sorrow. We move forward in expectation of what lies ahead. Our hearts may yearn for what has past, but reality demands that we push ahead.
Death is simply another goodbye in the grand scheme of things. For the believer, it is a step into the eternity which holds no fear, but only the prospect of new hellos. Is there sadness? Obviously. Even our Savior felt sorrow at the death of his friend, Lazarus. But, we are confident that, like the other goodbyes we have said, hello will come again. What a great hope! I’m not anxious for the day when the goodbye I say to my father is the last one we’ll say here. But, it is what he has been laboring for all of these years. How would I want to keep him from that?
It does seem that goodbye has come to be such an abrupt, almost ugly, word. Maybe we should add two words to it, two simple words, but they give a sense of promise and of hope.
Goodbye, for now.
“Death has been swallowed up in Victory!”
(I Corinthians 15:54B)
God be with you till we meet again;
By His counsels guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you;
God be with you till we meet again.
Till we meet at Jesus’ feet;
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.
“Why can’t we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together? I guess that wouldn’t work. Someone would leave. Someone always leaves. Then we would have to say good-bye. I hate good-byes. I know what I need. I need more hellos.”
(Snoopy~created by Charles Schulz~American cartoonist~1922-2000)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012 All Rights Reserved.