Tag Archives: change

The Art of Farewell

Disclaimer: this entry is not written in self-pity, even though it is definitely something I’m dealing with right now.  It is a reflection on the art of separation, with which I have remarkable amount of experience.

 

I have said so many goodbyes in my life . . . so many that they numb me.  I am an expert goodbye-er.  The anticipation is the worst part.  Imagining your life without something or someone who is deeply ingrained into your everyday existence.  Those people who know how you are with just a silent glance.  The people who shared something significant with you that no one else did.  Strangers that you have grown to trust with your life.  Siblings from other mothers who know even better than your blood family when you want the hospital to pull the plug.  The ones you laugh uncontrollably with and share those inside jokes that everyone else rolls their eyes at.  Platonic “Other Halves” who ground you and neutralize your emotions, and the Sisters who just let you cry it out.  The ones who hug you.  The ones who tell you to knock it off.  The ones who know just what to say and just how to say it so that you become a better person.  The people who know all your dark places and still tell you that you can do it.  Even if you don’t see or talk to each other for days, you know they are close by in the place where they always are, and that makes all the difference.  And all the people who let you be that person for them.  Even the people who are an unending irritation fill a void . . . the irritation is a part of my existence, something I can count on.  It’s one thing to let go of one at a time, but how do you let go of them all at once?  How can I imagine a life without all of these people infiltrating my almost every waking moment?  I can’t.  It’s moments like these that I realize how they hold me up.

It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).  It always struck me that out of all the amazing things God created, His crowning glory, his Magnum Opus . . . The situation of Man, made in the image of God . . .  was the only thing God declared “not good.”  Adam had GOD, chilling in the garden with him every day, but it was NOT ENOUGH.  God was not enough.  And God said that, not me.  People need people.  God actually made us with a need that, by His own admission, He cannot fulfill.  Wow, right?

People tell me not to worry.  Your friends won’t go away just because you change jobs.  No, they won’t.  But they will.   They will morph into different kinds of friends.  I’ve done this.  A lot.  I know how it works.   Our dynamic hinges on sharing the same struggles, the same drama, the same frustrations that we deal with every day.  Our relationships exist because we are crammed in a space of land for at least 40 hours a week, because we share the pressure of molding lives despite the obstacle course we have to race through to get it done.  This is the glue that holds us together.  And let’s face it: outside of work, our lives rarely – if ever – blend.  And, again being honest, relationships take work and time . . . time we just don’t really have.  So without the time and being crammed together, each relationship will shift, slowly or quickly, in one of three directions:

1.  Absence is noted and felt, but the gap fills quickly.  These are actually the least painful goodbyes.  Perhaps a bit whimsical.  These friends fade slowly from your consciousness, and eventually their memories are peacefully stirred by a photo or an anecdote.

2.  Tears and hugs.  We have shared memories, grown together, laughed and cried together, probably argued a bit.  Separation is painful, and the hole left behind is huge.  But over time, it fills in.  These people are your familiar friends, you smile when you think of them, you stalk them quietly on Facebook, eventually you’re just fine without them.  They are the people who have changed your life and are now absent from it.  But whenever you get together it’s like you never left.  The trust is there, the stories and the jokes are alive; you still understand nuances, expressions, and body language.  There is familiarity always.

3.  Then there are the goodbyes that you truly dread.  The ones that are like cutting your arm off.  The ones you think about, cry about, have nightmares about, and that keep you awake at night.  But when the moment comes, the actual goodbye and walking away, there are no tears left to cry.  You’re just relieved that it’s over, finally done.  You are numb, and your emotions are shut off.  You are surprised at your strength, because you expected to cry like a sick baby.  These are your family, your stronghold, and you have no idea who you might be without them near because their presence has been and is such a part of who you have become and what and how you are.  Eventually it hits you that this safety is gone, and you grieve again; but it’s a different grief, because the loss is now real – different but not unlike what you dreaded.  It is tainted by a strange numbness.  And these are the people that will always be no further back than the middle of your mind.  You’ll think of them at least once a week for the rest of your life.  You might not see or talk to them much anymore, but they will remain a part of you – the jokes, the advice, the adventures, the arguments, the growing up together . . . all become infused into who you are.  And this is where it’s true that these friendships will not go away.  You will always know them and they will always know you, because you have been such a part of each other’s becoming. A texted word, a phrase, a look – even after years apart – will still communicate what it used to.  No matter how you have changed in the meantime things will still click because our true self, our souls, the light of our eyes, our smile . . . they stay forever the same.

I don’t know exactly what determines who is what kind of friend.  It never turns out the way I expect it to. And most of the time, it seems like you’re not the same kind of friends to each other. I do know that there’s no way I could handle too many friends in each category.  Our minds simply couldn’t cope with all of that.  The past must fade so that the future can materialize.  It’s not a bad thing – it’s like moving . . . the important things always stay with us, but some things must be released.  It’s almost cruel, but it’s true . . . not all relationships are forever.  But it can be painful, oh so painful, to let go!

Again, people tell me not to worry.  Well, I do.  I’m terrified.  But my experience also gives me peace.  I’ve done this.  A lot.  I know how it works.  Farewell is an art, and to do it well you must intuitively understand its intricate details, the spinning ballet of relational change.  You must learn to embrace it all fully . . . the sadness and grief intertwined with the freedom of new beginnings. I tend to grieve prematurely.  It’s ridiculous.  Then I go numb.  Then I really fall apart for awhile when reality hits.  And then . . . I move on.  Turns out it’s actually easier when you’re the one leaving.  I don’t have a hole to fill . . . I’m walking into an empty field ready to build.  The emotion fades into quiet and occasionally overwhelming appreciation for the people I have been so very blessed to know, for the people God placed in my life because He knew I needed them and they would help refine me into the person who I’m supposed to be.  And then, because I know it is not good for man to be alone . . .

I look for the new people.

That Flighty Temptress . . .

So now, as my mind reverberates with the cacophony of mental vibrations resulting from the clashing of my many worlds, I am forcefully reminded of the word God spoke into my heart when I was 17: “I have given you a homeless heart.” Today, I feel that deeply. Here I am in my little apartment, the place I have called home longer than any other, but I feel strangely out of place. This awkwardness, this sense that I have traded brightness for stability, will continue until the vicious and monotonous pace of work and life sweep me up again. In a few weeks this grief and inner conflict will be a distant memory, and I will again be comfortable in this habitat that I call home.

The question is . . . do I want to be comfortable?

I wrote that almost exactly 8 months ago, in the last week that I did any real blogging, right after I got back from my month home in Mexico.  And ever since, that last question has taken up space in the back of my mind, one of those thoughts that wavers on the divide between consciousness and disregard.

My life has generally been one of churning change, at least since I was 11.  Living between countries, moving between homes, never quite unpacking, constantly saying goodbye.  The closest I’ve ever gotten to choosing change was moving to California.  It was absolutely my choice, but I made it because after weeks of interviewing the only other career option I could find was the grocery store I worked at all through college.  I know that it was God’s way of pushing me out here.  I spent about 5 months reveling in the naive belief that I had finally found stability.  Then it all unraveled and I found myself in yet another maelstrom of constantly shifting change.  A year after that, I found Chamberlain’s.  What a mess I was in those days!  Depressed, lonely, unfocused, insecure, self-conscious . . . I could go on and on.  I should have been fired so many times.  But I wasn’t.  People believed in me, saw my potential, didn’t let me quit, protected me, listened, guided, and were ever patient.  Slowly, I finally found my stride.  I listened, I learned, I came out of my fog, I grew up.  I made friends.  I finally, truly, and completely unpacked.  I got cats.  I bought furniture made out of real wood.  I became confident, I learned how to trust my instinct.  I finished my master’s degree with honors.  I grew, cultivated, and maintained an amazing network of colleagues who speak well of me.  I became someone who, for the first time, feels like my someone.  I’m not perfect and I’ve got problems, but they’re STABLE problems.

Needless to say, I have CLUNG to this stability.  It has been my lifeblood, my one great accomplishment.  I have had opportunities to let go, but I haven’t.  I’ve had reasons – really GOOD reasons – to walk away, but I dug in my heels.  Do I want to be comfortable?  A. B. S. O. L. U. T. E. L. Y.  I want to feel safe and adequate.  I want to be better than anyone else at what I do.  We all do.  Change does not endorse these things.  Not at all.

And yet that thought clung to the sides of my brain . . . do I want to be comfortable?  On a whim and out of curiosity I did a quick job search just to see what was out there.  Item #2 on the results list: Social Worker for the Refugee Foster Care program at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County.  Must speak Spanish.  Hmm.  Interesting.  Yeah, right.  I don’t know if I’m ready for THAT kind of change. . .

That Sunday my pastor came up to me with that look that says I better pay attention.  “God wants to do something in your life this year.  He wants to take you to new places.  He wants to do something in your life, but you can’t go on what you feel.  You can’t go on your emotions or on your thoughts.  You just have to have faith.  That’s your word for this year.”  Aw, crud.

So I went and talked to a few people, told them about the job.  The consensus was unanimous: everyone said they felt it in their guts, they got goosebumps, they felt so much excitement . . . irrefutable confirmation.  So I updated my resume (which I highly recommend if you’re ever feeling a bit inadequate – it’s a great morale booster) and sent it in to Catholic Charities in the third week of January.  I sent it in too late, but they were planning to hire again soon so just call back in a few weeks.  Okay, I can handle that.

As the months slipped by, major change did indeed start to happen.  Chamberlain’s got reorganized, and I was promoted.  The changes were a result of some really challenging advocacy by myself and my coworker; it was a time of grief, loss, victory, and learning.  I am definitely stronger because of that experience.  Since then, I have had the opportunity to help implement things that have desperately needed implementation.  I have been able to be creative again and develop new ideas that work.  I like my job more than I have in years.

And then the call came in June.  They don’t need a social worker, but they’re over-funded.  They’ve decided to incorporate a mental health component to the Refugee Foster Care program and need a clinician to pioneer it.  Would I interview?  Deep breath. . . okie dokie.  I knew in my gut that this was it. I honestly gave them every reason NOT to hire me.  I told them I needed a lot of transition time before I’d be able to start.  I told them I think clinical theory is generally irritating and that my clinical perspective is called common sense.  I told the supervisor interviewing me that he’s really bad at responding to emails.  I showed off my dry wit in discussing the possible benefits of “duct tape therapy.”  Turns out that all that stuff actually made them like me more.  They didn’t want anyone obsessively stuck into a theoretical mindset.  They countered my 30-day transition request with the assumption that I would want 45, and said they’d rather wait longer for the right person.  They joined my humor with their own even stronger variety (or rather, the kind I pull out when I’m NOT sitting in an interview).  They said they wanted to make sure that whoever they brought in would fit in well with their office culture and be able to handle some decent practical jokes.  They told me at my second interview on July 12th that I was the first of three second interviews and I’d hear back in a week or so.  Thirty minutes after I left the building I got an email asking if I could come in so they could extend me a formal offer.

And so it has transpired that because of a trip to Mexico that led to a blog that ended in a question that stuck in my brain and caused me to consider the words of my pastor I applied for a job that I didn’t get which allowed me to get a promotion to learn so many things and develop a lot more confidence so that when a position was invented and tailor-made for me I would be ready to recognize and answer the Call and choose . . . change.  A new adventure.

And now . . . let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, Adventure. 

– Albus Dumbledore

So now I find myself facing the most dramatic change I’ve ever chosen, and wondering what the heck I was thinking.  It is much more difficult than I ever imagined.  I knew it would be hard, but I never imagined how much of my identity and my confidence is wrapped up in my job.  Chamberlain’s has been my home, my family.  I’m honestly not quite sure how I’m going to make it without these people and without all these kids running around all over the place.  Things will sure be awfully quiet.  And I’ve been grieving. . . a lot.  It’s kinda like a mini-suicide, choosing to walk away from this amazing place that has become part of me.  But again, I am blessed.  My new supervisor left a similar position about a year ago, and went through a very similar experience.  He had the compassion to ask me how I was doing, and then gave me my first directive: take an extra week between jobs to grieve, rest, and do something fun.  My 45 days became 52. God knows our needs.

Today was the day that I announced that I’m leaving.  All the grownups and all the kids, back to back.  I had the conversation 7 times, and they asked me questions that required answers:  Why?  Why now?  Do you want to leave us?  Can’t you wait until I leave first?  Will you forget us?  If you’re sad, why do you want to leave?  Just tell them you changed your mind because you love us too much!  Who’s gonna take care of us?  You’ve been in my life for so long, how can I do it without you? . . . It’s amazing the gift children have for mirroring our own thoughts and emotions back to us.

My answers came to me easily, without my planning it.  When we’ve learned what we’re meant to learn, there’s no more action.  And when we’re not active, we stay still.  And when we sit too long on the couch just because it’s comfy and we love it and are happy there, we get fat and lazy and stiff.  And if I get fat and lazy and stiff in my job, I’m no good to anyone.  You’ll always be in my heart.  I couldn’t forget you even if I tried.  You’ll always be able to find me if you really want to.  And no, I don’t want to leave you at all, but I need to.  It is time.

And I think about adventures.  No adventure begins without a goodbye, without a loss, without a significant risk, without throwing yourself into the unknown.  We must indeed step out into the night to pursue Adventure; she beckons us with hope and promise and excitement, luring us into the dark where all our wits are tested.  I’m afraid of this dark; I’m not sure what I’ll find in there.  Depression tempts me, pulling me back into the safe cocoon of isolation I lived in . . . before, during times of change and uncertainty.  I have a healthy fear of that place, and now I have the chance to find out how well I stand on my own two feet.  But over and over I hear in my head, “You can’t go on your emotions or on your thoughts.  You just have to have faith.”  So to the best of my ability I’m ignoring the doubts and crying through the grief and moving on.

I know this is right.  I’m excited, thrilled in fact!  It’s so weird to be so sad and so excited at the same time.  I get to create, invent, plan, organize. . . with a lot more available resources.  I’m really good at that stuff.  I get to grow my Spanish into a professional arena, which is something I’ve been wanting for a long time.  I get to immerse myself in other cultures again, dive into that long-dormant passion of culture and identity and assimilation.  All my years of obsessing over who and why I am, all the philosophizing that drove everyone crazy . . . it matters now.  These passions, these questions, the years of searching through my grief, the goodbyes, the moves, the uncertainty . . . it has new value.  God planned it all, he made me who I am and how I am so that I could be what He has made me to be.

So here we go . . . time to finish strong and hurl myself into the dark tunnel so I can feel my way through to the adventure on the other side!

“Make your choice, adventurous Stranger,
Strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had.”

– C. S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew

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