Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Last Farewell

I blame it on the fall. If we didn’t have original sin, we wouldn’t have the word goodbye. No adiós. No arrivederci. No auf wiedersehen.

And Roger Whittaker would not have made a fortune on songs like "The Last Farewell."

Our hearts long for more. We want reconciliation, and reminiscing, and restoration. We love hello, a word that holds promise and hope.

Young people love the word hello. We remember the Renee Zellweger line, “You had me at hello.”

Hello is so much better than goodbye.

Couples who hope to reconcile wait for hello. They dread goodbye.

Old friends smile at the word hello and immediately pick up where they left off.

Parents need hello when their college-aged children have said that first serious goodbye.

I went to my thirty year class reunion a few weeks ago. I enjoyed seeing some old friends and reminiscing. Still, it left me a little sad. I realized again how time presses on - moving from first encounters to last goodbyes. Sometimes, it happens, and we don’t even notice it. We find ourselves checking in at a hotel a few miles from our alma mater and hours later, we’re chatting with a friend from junior high that we haven’t seen in three decades. At the end of the night, we hug and slip into our cars and return to our lives, doubting as the poet Robert Frost says, that “I should ever come back.” And that's kind of sad.

Three weeks later, I’m at a funeral.

It’s been seven years since I was in RCIA with Bob and Pat. Today, Pat is burying her husband. And I think of Roger Whittaker and last farewells and first hellos.

Yes. I'm convinced. This word goodbye is all because of the fall. This is not how it was meant to be. Wives are not meant to say goodbye to their husbands. Mothers aren’t meant to bury their children. Friends aren’t meant to drift in and out of one another’s lives as though friendship was as transient as a daffodil in spring.

I walked into the funeral home and saw Pat standing beside the casket, and I knew that goodbye was not God’s plan for us.

Bob had suffered from Alzheimer’s. Pat said that one of her best memories was visiting Bob during those last months of his illness. She already missed him, though he was still physically present. She looked at Bob one day, and asked – almost without expecting an answer – “Do you still love me?”

“I love you exceedingly,” he said. It was marital grace – as beautiful as their first hello. No. Even better.

It’s the human condition. Children grow up and move out. Friends drift apart. A husband outlives a wife, or a wife outlives a husband. Goodbye doesn’t get easier.

I began walking over to Pat as she stood there next to her husband, and I recalled meeting them in RCIA class nearly eight years ago. I remembered the story of their journey, how they had neither one been Catholic, but both felt the Spirit’s call simultaneously. I don’t know another couple that can say that. But as I watched Pat from across the room at the visitation, I realized that Bob had made one step in this journey that took him further down the path.

In the middle of their goodbye, I crossed the room and said, “Hi Pat.” My little hello, what good could it possibly do in an overwhelming and irreversible goodbye?

She reached for my hand and smiled.

Original sin may have given us the word goodbye, but God’s grace has given us the word hello.

At any given moment, there is someone who is waiting for hello.

I don’t know who it is in your world. But I think you probably do.

Go ahead. Say it to someone right now.

There is a wellspring of grace in the little word “hello.”


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