Farewell Syndrome

This weekend I joined in a farewell drink and junk food gathering to say one last goodbye to a colleague leaving the country and starting another part of his life. As we drank, snacked and discussed his future plans in Columbia, everyone avoided the obvious sentiments at the table. But the atmosphere surrounding us of the inevitable final goodbye drew out our nostalgia. We began to reminisce and talk of the pop music of our childhood decades. A common thread each of our distant schooldays shared, played out on different continents and in different cultures, a tune or lyric that tied us all closer together.

The night came to its’ quietest hours and everyone knew they’d start for their own homes soon, but no one wanted to say the words first. “Stay safe” and “good luck” we said between hugs to our colleague. We made a stilted farewell because, after all, who wants a long goodbye. Enough of the packing up, selling everything off, and making the appropriate false-promises of keeping in touch. Even the colleague taking leave of us, although we’d all shared good times together throwing barbs at each other and having a laugh, just wanted to get it over with and move on already, enough.

More likely than not, life moving us forward to new ventures and places with new people waiting, we will never again meet face to face with our colleague. This led to a Sunday of wistful looking back at pictures and memories of all the people who had once listened to a difficult situation, shared in a cookie binge or made me laugh so hard my stomach cramped, now gone on or stayed when I left for a new beginning.

The fast track to get away from the people who’d become so close over months or years; the need to pick up and go on with limited fuss at first seems unusual, but seems to be universal. The most obvious reason is perhaps the pain of saying farewell. The ones getting left behind have each other and will continue life without the traveler, who goes on alone. A sad prospect. Another cause could be our desensitization to emotion and the depth of relationships thanks to the technological age. People I haven’t seen for years and almost never chat with are the majority of my contact pages. We can talk to everyone we’ve ever met who has an internet connection now, whenever we want. Maybe at first we exchange messages with the distant friend, but after awhile that fades and we only follow their photographs and updates. We know what they are doing but not who they are anymore, the person has become more of a stranger than a friend.

I think maybe though the biggest reason we don’t want to have a formal and drawn out goodbye in these cases is the specter of our mortality. Many partings, while both parties will continue to live for many healthy years, remain final until we all come to our end. Somewhere a secret thought makes us shudder, I will never see this person again as long as I live.

It’s possible, but not a reason to get all dark. At the same time this person leaves, or we move on, we can be thankful for the friends who have shared a little of themselves and their lives with us, even if only for a short time. Now we have the memories.

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