“It’s the emptiest and yet the fullest of all human messages: ‘Good-bye.” – Kurt Vonnegut
In the last month, I’ve thought about goodbyes. They often come with flashbacks of the past. That is precisely what happened when I heard about the passing of 60 Minute correspondent Morley Safer. I started remembering the Sundays of my childhood. In the morning, I bolted down the driveway and picked up the paper. I hunted for the comics and the TV guide and then carefully assembled the paper in its original form. Thirty minutes later the my family congregated at the breakfast table with chai and donuts. The afternoons unfolded with Subway sandwiches and rooting for the Dallas Cowboys. And in the evening at 6:00 p.m. the voices of the 60 Minute reporter filled the space of our small living room. My father watched with focus and if a story piqued his interest, he wanted us to witness the listening. My mother could be making fresh roti’s, but my father insisted she hear the latest story on fraud and corruption or a special interview with a notable politician or celebrity. We’d congregate for an hour, listening to Mr. Safer. So when I learned of his death this past week, I started to remember all the memories and goodbyes coiled around these childhood moments. My father’s been gone for seven years and it’s been so long since my childhood family has interacted in this way. My childhood home doesn’t belong to me, I don’t run down the sidewalk to collect the Sunday paper and 60 Minutes isn’t a program my family watches.
Reflecting on this memory made me think about other goodbyes. We’ve attended two going away parties in May. My daughter is shaking off her childhood persona and embracing her tween years, while I can’t help but mourn my youth. I think of all the people who have entered and exited my life – the high school teacher, the supportive law professor, the friends meant for a particular season and co-workers who I’ve met. Sometimes I see flashes of this former life in Facebook, but it’s only that, a flicker of what was and a realization of how I am in another phase of my life. Midlife makes the goodbyes tactile and palpable; they carry more angst because there is a keen awareness of the passage of time.
Sometimes there is no warning. We don’t even know we are saying goodbye. It’s always the holding on which is difficult to reconcile, but yet like everyone else, I move forward and hurl into another experience. But I know that these small brief flickers will conjure a memory and an underlying emotion. And it is in that remembering I find solace. I spent Sundays with my childhood family enjoying the everyday, the smell of my mom cooking Indian infused lentils, the sound of my younger sister asking questions and of my father sitting on the couch, breathing in the stories from Mr. Safer, while I sat perched on the arm of the Lazy Boy chair trying to follow long. In those days, I told my parents, I would never leave them or get married because I loved them so much. I smile at my childhood innocence and recognize how much I didn’t want to say goodbye. But I married, formed my family and forged forward. I laugh when I hear my daughter repeat the exact same words, “Momma, I am going to live with you and Daddy forever.”
Oh sweet pea, I think. You will say goodbye. Much like I did. Much like all of us do.