Farewells echo hollowly every spring

As spring quarter comes to a close, practically everyone on campus will be saying goodbye to someone. Hundreds, possibly even thousands, of students will graduate and begin their lives as graduate students, citizens or employees in distant states or even distant countries. Friends are left with only a precious amount of time to laugh their last laughs, smile their last smiles and share their last thoughts with each other before they must bid farewell.
I hate goodbyes. My first experience with this less-than-joyful custom came on the last day of first grade. While all the other kids had transformed into Mexican jumping beans and were celebrating the onset of summer vacation, I was standing in the middle of the classroom bawling my eyes out. Tears slowly dripped off my chin as I screwed my fists into my eye sockets and emitted hiccuping, strangled sobs. Somehow I had become so attached to my classmates that the mere idea of not seeing or playing with them every day absolutely broke my heart.
Although I eventually matured and learned to appreciate the last day of school along with other normal children, I still struggle with the emotions involved in saying goodbye. To avoid brooding over future farewells, I stick my head in the sand and refuse to consider my friends and family as anything but constant mainstays in my life.
But this escapist attitude has backfired and set me up for an emotional disaster this summer. In less than three weeks, I will be forced to say goodbye to my entire world and break away from everything and everyone I know and love. During the summer I will be studying abroad in Haiti, a developing country where people will feel nothing but indifference toward me.
Dazzled by the glamour of travel and the expectations of unlimited joy and discovery, I somehow overlooked the goodbyes I would be facing and the people I would be leaving behind. Perhaps if I knew I could return to everyone after my summer leave, I would not be panicking over these too-swiftly approaching farewells. But when I return in August, I must face the unfillable void left by three friends — Wen-Hwa, Jerry and Chris — who will be moving away this summer.
Wen-Hwa may eventually leave for her homeland of Taiwan. Although she is still so young, she is graced with a wisdom and sympathy that can only arise from an age-old soul. Life without her advice and her uncanny understanding of the human heart seems very lonely and scary.
Jerry has introduced me to the more-gourmet entrÇes of life, and his companionship and conversation have unfailingly enlivened them with spice and flavor. A fellow independent spirit, he appreciates both strengths and weaknesses in people’s characters. He figures into so many of my first experiences — my first excursion to Chicago, my first opera, my first accusation of having sexual relations with Yoda. Jerry will graduate this spring and move away soon after to begin his survival in the real world.
My editor, Chris, will be leaving not only our Daily staff, but also the philosophy department at the end of spring quarter. I have yet to figure out how I will manage to find my way home from Stub and Herb’s without him. Or who will call me at 2 a.m. to calm my panic attacks and offer sound guidance when I am struggling to finish my column for that afternoon’s deadline. Without his irritatingly sneaky jabs in the rib cage to startle me from my computer work, life will be a little more mundane.
Perhaps it is the brutal, bare honesty of a goodbye that makes it so incredibly difficult. When you say farewell to a friend or family member, you are openly acknowledging the amputation of an emotional limb. A goodbye effectively severs any weakly clinging hope of reversal or any sad attempt at denial. Each party is acutely aware that the loss of companionship will be irreversible and most likely permanent.
Those who uselessly comfort the grief of a goodbye by predicting another hello would be more supportive if they themselves said, “Ta-ta,” and made themselves scarce. The pain from an immediate blow cannot easily be forgotten nor eased by merely considering the possibility of a future happiness, no matter how great. Attachment and loss are not interchangeable emotions. Unlike a hole dug in the ground, a void caused by the loss of a friend cannot be refilled with another mound of earth.
So how can we deal with goodbyes? Unfortunately, it seems there is neither a cure nor a comfort for a painful parting. Because almost every change in life is accompanied by some form of goodbye, the only foolproof alternative would be to lead a life entirely isolated and unattached from every other living being. Yet denying yourself the joy and warmth of friendship would be akin to sealing yourself in a sunless cave fearing every evening’s sundown.
Instead, we must fully accept goodbyes as an unavoidable, but natural, stage in friendship. Even as bleak and disheartening as farewells may seem, nothing in life is so unbearably desolate. Ironically — and in total accordance with human nature — most of us discover the true value of a treasure only after we lose it. Thus, goodbyes serve their purpose by teaching us to hold dear to our friends while we still have them.
Instead of waiting until time runs out, learn this lesson as early as you possibly can. You might only have a few more weeks to enjoy and appreciate that cherished friendship. Express your affection wholly and completely, and leave no regrets about what you could or should have done for your friends. And when the fateful day comes and you are faced with the heartache of a farewell, realize that you shared at least a small part of your life with someone special and received the gift of friendship in return. As you give your last hug to a friend, think to yourself, “How lucky I am to have known someone who was so hard to say goodbye to.”

Samantha Pace’s column will be on hiatus during the summer while she is in Haiti. She welcomes comments to [email protected]