Years ago, I asked a group of elementary students if they ever went to the last page of a book first in order to find out how it ends. Several children nodded a bit sheepishly that they did. They complained that it was too un-nerving not to know what happened - did it all end, happily ever after or not? Should the reader really care about the characters especially if they were to be removed from the story?
I suppose many of us like to know how it all comes out in the end which is why many of us don't like good-byes very much. Good-bye represents the end of something and when that something has been good, we are reluctant to move on to the unknown future. People on the Internet talk about "forever homes" for pets and "forever friends" for themselves even as we know all life comes to an end for everyone.
But learning to say good-bye is part of learning to be human. Things do end; sometimes happily, sometimes tragically, something boringly. When we are the agent desiring change, we often anticipate endings with rising delight and joy. The end of school, the end of illness, the end of duty or work might be looked upon with eager anticipation. In other times and places, we hope that time itself might slow down or something might happen that would extend this time of pleasure, engagement, or simple human connection.
When endings are thrust upon us, we are often very reluctant if not openly upset about these changes crashing into our lives. We engage in denial about it all or pretend that it is not really happening. We look for delays or reasonable objections that hide our personal reluctance to accept the changes that come when things end. We do this denial and delay even when, we, ourselves, have initiated the change and know, at some deep level, that this change, awkward and difficult and unpleasant as it might be, is, in fact, part of what we need to do. I know this to be the case because this all describes what I have been going through since announcing my retirement. And yet my time as your rector is ending and I am not stopping the process.
Good-bye is actually a contraction of a longer phrase from the 15th Century, "God be with ye." So when we bid someone or something good-bye, we are not dismissing them or it from our lives without a thought or care, rather, we are acknowledging that our time in community or communion is coming to an end but we still wish that this person or thing be with God as we are with God. Many of our synonyms for good-bye have similar characteristics. Farewell is a contraction of "fare thee well," meaning we wish this other person a good life, a happy future. The French, "au revoir" literally means "until we see again." It, too, has altered into a form of good-bye. The Hawaiian word, "aloha" has come to mean both hello and good-bye though it is closer to words like love, compassion, and peace. As a boy, I watched Roy Rogers and Dale Evans on TV and I remember their theme song, "Happy trails to you, until we meet again. Happy trails to you, keep smilin' until then."
So, dear ones, the time has come to say all the above - "Aloha, Farewell, Au Revoir, Happy Trails, and Good-bye." We have walked together with God and we will continue in that journey even though our paths must part. But this good-bye is for now and not for all times. The changes and chances of life may bring us back together in a new way, with new stories to tell, and more laughter and joy to embrace. We each step into the unknown, trusting in God's love for us, knowing that we are deeply known and loved anyway.
As Saint Paul reminded his congregation in Corinth so long ago:
"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."
God be with you all, and "Aloha."
August 31, 2016
Bainbridge Island, WA