The Absurd and Amazing Adventures of Cafe Girl: Small Goodbyes

May 28, 2008

Small Goodbyes

An old friend once said that goodbyes were tough, because once you say goodbye, nothing is ever the same again.

I’ve had a number of goodbyes in my life, some by choice, some against my will, some necessary, some by accident, some easy, some incredibly painful. It is true that once you say goodbye, nothing is ever the same again. Sometimes that is a good thing. Sometimes, that is not. Often, we don’t know the outcome when we say goodbye. That’s the hard thing about saying goodbye – we risk what is known for what is unknown.

Yet, we can not journey through life without saying goodbye. We do it in the smallest of the everyday. We say goodbye to loved ones when we leave the house, we say goodbye before we end a phone conversation, we sign our e-mails “best regards,” “love” or “miss you.” We say these throw away goodbyes fully assured that when we return things will most likely be the same as when we left. For the most part, this will be true.

It’s the big goodbyes that are the struggle. Because these are the goodbyes that bring change, and with it, risk. Move away and you are saying a big goodbye to a city, to a way of life, to friends and loved ones whom you’ve grown to know and who have grown to know you. Get married and you are saying goodbye to the single life and take the risk to be completely vulnerable to another person. Have a child and all bets are out the window – say goodbye to sleep, to sanity, to life as you know it.

The past year has been one of big goodbyes. I didn’t get married or have a baby, but I did say a big goodbye to a life in Chicago of ten years. I said a big goodbye to friends who know and love me. Goodbye to someone I was growing to love.

Through it all, I naively thought that any big goodbye, if done thoughtfully and well, would be a one-time-per-event kind of thing. In saying goodbye well I would honor the good, cherish the memories, remember all that I’ve gained and learnt, recognize and mourn the loss, look forward to the future and then move on.


I’ve been fooling myself by believing that after the big goodbye done well I can move on unfettered by thoughts and memories of what used to be. What used to be doesn’t understand that I’ve already said my big goodbye well. What used to be calls to me everyday as if I never left. It doesn’t care that I’ve mourned its loss. It begs me to yearn for it, for no other reason than it was what used to be. What used to be mocks my looking forward. It continues to exist, beckoning me to return to it.

I find myself having to say many small goodbyes to what used to be. I say a small goodbye when I do things I never would have done in Chicago – play poker, go rock climbing, learn to ride a bike. I say a small goodbye when I do something that I would have done in Chicago – host dinner parties, cook for friends, go to dinner and a movie.

I say a small goodbye every time I open my heart and show who I really am to my new community in Los Angeles. I say a small goodbye every time my community draws me in and I become more a part of this new family.

With every small goodbye I find myself growing that much sadder that I can not return to what used to be. Yet with every small goodbye what used to be leaves my now and takes it rightful place in my memory. Each small goodbye plants me firmly in the present.

Small goodbyes have to happen over and over again. That’s not easy. It’s incredibly painful – which is why I suspect there are some who believe that the one big goodbye is enough for moving forward. They resist the small goodbyes afterwards and consider it “wallowing in the past.”

As for me, I’m more and more convinced – small goodbyes aren’t about looking back, it’s the roadmap for moving forward.

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