The Art of Feeling Goodbye

She sat across the table from me early that morning. The only other people in the Panera Bread restaurant was her husband, a few tables away, discipling someone else. Not a surprise, if you know them. We talked about how much we meant to each other these past two years. I listened in amazement as she expressed how much growth she has seen in me. Growth I still had a hard time catching a glimpse of. And then, with tear-filled eyes, she shared her concern. “You were in such a dark and sad place when I met you,” she said, her accented voice cracking under the weight of her fear, “I don’t want you to go back there.”

When I was eight years old, my home country growing rapidly unstable, my parents sent my sister and I to the US to live with a dear cousin. Being so young, I did not have the words to explain how difficult it was for me to leave my life (my friends, my family, my roots) behind and start a new one. I was full of so many emotions – anger, guilt, sadness, shame, anxiety, confusion – I did not know what to do with them. And being a deeply feeling child, it did not take me long to realize that those emotions were not preferred. How strenuous it must have been for my cousin to deal with an often moody, irritable, and depressed child. I am not sure if it was out of sympathy or self-preservation, but I eventually learned how to compartmentalize. And I’ve become quite the expert at it over the years.

Every goodbye, every difficult season, every move that took me away from hard-won friends (five schools between third grade and high school as an introvert, you can imagine the emotional tribulations that caused), was carefully packed away in its own box with accompanying memories. Whenever it was time to move on, life was broken down into related fragments and I moved on. Leaving my family, boxed. The death of my sister, boxed. Losing dear friends, boxed. Disappointing failures, boxed. Heart-wrenching heartbreaks, boxed. Life became a series of carefully labeled and neatly organized boxes. Some forgotten once stored, others often looked at but never opened, and yet others so full that the slightest provocation would cause the contents to spill out, sending me on a downward spiral until I could “get it together”. And all the while, I smiled. The biggest, brightest, most welcoming smile to let the world know that I had indeed moved on… That I was, “ok”.

The problem was, I had not moved on without my emotions. The deeply feeling girl had grown into a deeply feeling woman. And by the time I met this dear lady, the only thing I felt was anger followed by guilt and shame which triggered a desperate sadness that lead to anguish, anxiety, and confusion. If you had asked me then, there were one-hundred and one reasons, just as easily as there were none, for my feelings. But the truth is, in all my packing I had managed to box myself up and shut most everyone out. Somehow, my friend saw past that. She looked looked at my smile but saw the distance in my eyes, so she bid me to draw closer… And closer still… So close that the warehouse of boxes could not be hidden… And even closer then, until the labels could be read and the boxes started unpacking.

And now she is saying, “goodbye”…

My initial reaction is to engage my usual pattern of “keeping it together”. Head high, shoulders up, bright smile, life is tough, appreciate the time you had and move… No. I pray to God, I want to feel this one. “I won’t go back there”, I promise. And I cry too.

~ that’s life… in no particular order

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