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Saying Goodbye for Good

How to bid farewell as though our bodies mattered.
Saying Goodbye for Good
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People can’t say goodbye anymore,” writes the poet Les Murray. “They say last hellos.”

Take, for instance, a recent experience I had with some good friends. They had packed the last of their belongings for a cross-country move and showed up at my door before hitting the road. I tried to make small talk, awkwardly fending off the inevitable parting. Finally, they gave me a hug, and I blurted out, “We’ll have to get together again this fall. Maybe I can make a road trip down to see you.” A last hello is what I was saying, not a goodbye. I couldn’t bring myself to say the latter.

Once, at the end of a degree program, I went to my favorite professor’s office for a similar parting. I had taken multiple classes with him, and his teaching had left a permanent mark on me. I wanted to say that I would miss our regular conversations. We talked uncomfortably for a few minutes. I rose to leave. “Well, I won’t say goodbye,” he mumbled, avoiding eye contact. “You can ask my wife—I don’t do goodbyes.”

In his book A Severe Mercy, a memoir of Christian conversion and student life in Oxford, Sheldon Vanauken tells the story of his last meeting with C. S. Lewis, who had become a friend. The two men ate lunch together, and when they had finished, Lewis said, “At all events, we’ll certainly meet again, here—or there.” Then he added: “I shan’t say goodbye. We’ll meet again.” And with that, they shook hands and parted ways. From across the street, above the din of traffic, Lewis shouted, “Besides, Christians never say goodbye!”

There is, of course, something admirable in all these ...

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Wayfaring
Wesley Hill
Wesley Hill teaches New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. His book Spiritual Friendship will be released from Brazos Press in early 2015.
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