“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.” “You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
~ E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web
In January, I moved in with a group of women. From the get-go, I knew this was temporary. I was in the middle of what felt like a million different transitions and this was supposed to be a place to reside for a few months, five tops. I had every intention of rushing through spring and absolutely no intention of investing time, energy, and love into these women. However, four months later, despite my initial shameful intentions, I find myself teary every time I remember that goodbye is encroaching. These women have given me the gift of their friendship. They’ve walked with me through one of the most bittersweet seasons I’ve yet known. They’ve embraced me. They’ve given generously. They’ve listened carefully. They’ve extended grace. They’ve defended me when others judged me. They’ve fed me on occasion. They’ve found me late at night and sat on my bed with me, refusing to let me cry alone. They’ve invested in me, knowing full well that I was leaving. I remain astounded. They’ve been images of Christ to me, each in their own ways.
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes about the passing of a friend and the impact this had on their group of friends. There is a certain side of his friends that he doesn’t see anymore, a side that only the now deceased friend could draw out. In this way, he says we are lights to each other and that each of us reflect God to each other in different ways:
“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets…friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.”
I found this to be true. We couldn’t be more different, these women and I. We, all of us, brought a unique vision that made us stronger somehow. Each of them found a special place in my heart that I’ll carry with me all my days. We’ll keep in touch and visit, I’m sure. But we’re all in varying seasons and going separate ways and, for now, we’re forced to say goodbye. Our lives unexpectedly collided for a semester, and, in retrospect, it was a beautiful gift. One that I wish I could put in a box with a giant bow so that I could reopen it.
I find solace in C.S. Lewis’s words when he describes this gift as not so unexpected:
“In friendship…for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.”
I couldn’t be more grateful our paths (un)expectedly crossed. In order to ceremoniously end this short season, these sweet souls asked what I wanted to do before I moved away. I smiled. What I really wanted was to have a rhubarb picnic. Please, allow me to explain.
It all started a few years ago when I stumbled across rhubarb as I was just learning how to eat seasonally. I fell in love with these tangy, hot pink stalks and I dreamt up a magical rhubarb themed picnic—an ode to the delightful, and often overlooked spring vegetable. In case you were wondering, The Huffington Post declared rhubarb “the crowning glory of spring’s fresh produce.” Food 52, a popular food blog, dubbed rhubarb “the sassiest of all vegetables” due to its raucous shade of magenta-red, showy leaves and lanky stalks. I’m always championing for this quirky plant, seeking to integrate it into my spring menu whenever possible.
I knew that I was preparing to say goodbye during the quintessential part of spring—meaning perfect picnic weather. Coincidentally, rhubarb was in season. The stars aligned. I’d yet to make my picnic dream a reality and this felt like the perfect opportunity. My dear friends chuckled, but they didn’t hesitate. “If that’s what you want to do, then we want to do that,” they said. True friends.
We set aside a Sunday afternoon. I arranged plates and flowers. I folded napkins. I opened jars of cream and jam to be slathered on rhubarb-white-chocolate scones. Everything, of course, had to be pink. We drank tea on the front porch all afternoon, reminiscing about the last four months and all the unexpected happenings, the unwelcome and jarring surprises and also the delightful ones the changing winds blew through our house that spring. We mused about plans for the upcoming summer. We exchanged gifts, and letters, doleful of our parting, full of gratitude for the short season we had shared together. It may seem silly to say goodbye prior to one’s actual departure, but I’ve moved enough times to know that goodbyes on moving day are rushed at best and generally don’t happen. Between the chaos of the moving truck and the last minute vacuuming and the stuffing in all the things you forgot were yours in every side pocket and crevice you can find, it’s easier to give a quick hug or a wave and pretend it’s not really happening.
I hate saying goodbye, and I truly mean hate. I’m not about to linger long enough to feel the weight of sadness that comes from parting ways. Goodbyes feel so unnatural to me, so heavy, as if they’re not supposed to be. And of course, this got my brain whirring. I’ve been ruminating on this thought for awhile now, pressing into how uncomfortable goodbyes are to me. I wonder if this discomfort in my soul is perhaps good, maybe even right. Goodbyes serve as reminders to me that this life is not the end. They lead me to a place of longing for eternity, a time when goodbyes will cease.
Just last week, an old friend described to me a funeral she recently attended. She was lamenting that the entire funeral was a celebration. “There will come a day when our tears will be no more, but today is not that day,” she said. My friend was disappointed that the funeral didn’t allow space for the family to grieve, to feel their deep loss, however uncomfortable that might be. They were trying so hard to celebrate a life entering eternity that they failed to allot time to sit in the reality that is death, the reality that is goodbye, for now. Death is a painful reality of our lives and it is right to mourn. Goodbyes are painful. They taste a lot like death to me, but I believe it is right to say them. I realize there is Skype and FaceTime and plane tickets and road trips, but they are no substitute for living, learning, and growing alongside one another. There are no substitutes for random Saturday trips to buy succulents, impromptu Thai takeout dinners, copious afternoon tea sessions, and endless movie nights where we actually don’t watch a movie, rather, we stay up talking late into the night.
These women and I, we’ll keep in touch, certainly, and one day we won’t have to say goodbye. But today is not that day.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ~Revelation 21:3-4
I hoped saying goodbye this time wouldn’t be as difficult as in times past. I’d felt entirely unanchored over the last two years, a city girl who never quite found her place in a small southern town. I had hoped my lack of attachment to my geographical dwelling would make leaving easier. Alas, it did not. As I packed, I began to collect all the memories I’d made, all the lessons I’d learned, all the ways this place and the people I met had changed me, for the better. I began to mourn all the relationships I would miss—especially these four ladies. We’d found solidarity in our shared desire to grow—to be more like Jesus, to be our best selves, to be brave in the face of death in all its various forms.
I believe something good has happened when we say goodbye and large, hot tears fall. They’re indicative of a willingness to open our hearts, to love deeply, to live fully. I want to be brave enough to live in such a way that goodbyes are painful. And then I want to be courageous enough to say goodbye when I leave. As I begin a new season, with the anticipation of new memories and friendships, I hope to be as good of a friend as these women have been to me. The kind of friend who says yes to a rhubarb picnic, no questions asked.
If you find yourself nearing the end of a season this spring, I challenge you to reach deep within and find the courage to say goodbye. Pack a picnic. I recommend rhubarb and white-chocolate blondies or rhubarb vanilla-bean scones. And let the tears fall. Goodbyes won’t always be, but, for today, they still are. It is right that they are painful and it is right to say them. Whenever I say goodbye I think of the quote by E.B. White, and I say a prayer of gratitude for the tremendous gift that is friendship.