I just enrolled my third child in a summer Driver’s Education class. Though she’s super excited, I can’t say it warmed my heart. For so many reasons.
First of all, I selfishly like a clear calendar in the summer. So, already scheduling something makes my beginning of Summer feel like May. And May – well we all know – it’s worse than December. Could anything else be packed into 31 days? It’s like the calendar-keepers know that summer and freedom is just around the corner, so they’re going take every opportunity to fill any blank space. (For disorganized, calendar-challenged and organizationally-impaired people like myself – this is a nightmare.)
Second, I really didn’t need a reminder that I will soon be sitting (once again!) on the passenger side of a very large vehicle, shielding my eyes and gasping for air as a well-meaning novice takes over the wheel. I’m not sure my head can hold any more gray hairs.
Third, and most important, I also don’t need a reminder that yet another one of these people I love SO much is growing older and will soon no longer ride next to me.
Driver’s Ed is the beginning of good-bye.
And I’m learning in the very hardest way, that I don’t like goodbyes. I especially don’t like goodbyes of the long-term variety.
Thursday night this week, I sat next to my friend Jen at a small but lively gathering and we talked about a looming goodbye. Her looming good-bye. Which is weird. It’s strange to talk to someone whose body is being ravaged from the inside out with cancer. It’s like she’s going on a trip, but just doesn’t know when she’s leaving. So until the plane is ready to board, she’s making the very most of every moment – all while fighting to stay alive. And none of us want her to leave.
I loved our chat – the brutal honesty – that she can be brutally honest. I loved watching her sink into all the goodness of time with friends. (I was so thankful to get to meet several of her sister-friends that until yesterday I only knew their names.) And I loved watching the Lord tenderly carry this faithful daughter through the most challenging of roads in the loveliest way.
Several of Jen’s friends were in town to support each other – Jen and specifically Melanie who came to Dallas for a Barnes & Noble Book signing. If you don’t know Jen’s friend Melanie, you should – because she’s terrific. She has a delightful talent of leaving behind her a wake of encouragement and inspiration through writing and speaking. Her new book, Nobody’s Cuter Than You is about friendship.
I watched them laugh and reminisce and simply enjoy being together – since most of the them live apart, like we all do from many friends throughout the different stages of our lives – all while one in their rank is very sick. But no one was letting that cast a shadow on anything. Because the beauty is in the friendships and relationships.
And I thought about good-byes while watching everyone. Why are good-byes so hard? Why do they hurt? Why does it feel like a part of ourselves is being stripped away when those we love say good-bye?
The truth is, I don’t think we were made for good-byes. I think pretty much just the opposite. We are made for together.
In the book I’ve been reading, Surprised by Oxford, Carolyn Weber recounts a dinner at the esteemed University where she sat next to a renowned heart surgeon from the U.S. named Dr. Inchbald. Being that the physician’s field pits him in countless life and death situations, he was asked by another guest about his view on God, science and life. A portion of his response, an ah-ha moment he had while literally holding someone’s heart, resonated with me:
“Well, as I was standing there, all the uncertainty of my life, the absurdity of all this death, and all our attempts to ward it off, came down to a pinprick of light – like the glint off the scalpel in my hand. As I looked down I realized my hand was shaking, the ultimate downfall for any surgeon, but especially a heart surgeon. I panicked and felt as if I was being swallowed up in , well” – he looked over at Dr. Sterling – “a black hole.”
Dr. Sterling chuckled.
“When all of a sudden, I heard it. A ping.”
“A what?” the provost opened his eyes wide with confusion.
“A ping. Like a, well, high-pitched ping. Like the sound that the machine that cost over a million pounds makes in the delivery room in the opening birth sequence to Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. You’re British; you should know,” he leveled at the provost. “The machine that goes ping!”
… “This ping marked something that finally went off in my head, in my heart, in my hand – steadying all three by what I can only call a miracle.
“Do explain!” Dr. Sterling urged.
Dr. Inchbald tried his best to comply. “I’ve come to the conclusion that God is sovereign, even over science and that I cannot pretend to fully know His ways. They really are mysterious, as the saying goes. And they are not of the mind of men, no matter how hard we try to wrap our minds about these ways.
… “But to cut to the chase,” Dr. Inchbald stated… “when I see death, I know it is wrong.”
“Obviously.” Dr. Rieland snickered.
“But really, really wrong. In-my-gut wrong,” Dr. Inchbald almost pleaded. “It was not meant to be. It was not meant for us. We were not built for it. Everything in my body, at a cellular level, let alone a metaphysical one, twists against it. Not just my death, but the death of every living thing.”
I think he has a point.
Of late, I’ve had more than enough illness and looming long-term separation surrounding me and my friends’ lives. Each case causes me pause – sometimes debilitating pause. And, I’ve thought about his “wrong” comment. And I think back to the beginning when the words, “It is not good for man to be alone” were said. Man is created in God’s image – the Trinity, the epitome of relationship. Creation itself points to our innate need for relationship, together. Maybe that’s why separation hurts so bad.
Maybe that’s why good-byes are so hard.
For today, I’m thankful that Driver’s Ed represents only temporary good-byes. But, I guess all of them are temporary, actually – because one day we will no longer say them. … Now that will be a good day.
Thanks for walking the road with me.
[sidenote: Please let me know if I can pray for and with you as you grapple with similar issues over your friends and family dealing with illness and long-term good-byes. I know there are so many. I think I could fill a page with the folks in my life. Not just Jen, but Greg and Samantha and Nancy and Maribeth’s daughter and the Bryans and Le’Shai and the Ervins and … I really could go on. Always grateful that we never have to travel the road alone.
On that topic… Here’s a link to Melanie’s book. Really sweet take on friendship that will warm your heart. Plus, Jen’s in the book :)]