I was in Atlanta last night (Friday, August 14) rather than tonight (Saturday, August 15) which is at the same time both fortunate and unfortunate—fortunate because I was picking up our son Joshua at the airport but unfortunate because I’m missing tonight’s Paul McCartney concert at Piedmont Park which I admit I probably wouldn’t have attended anyway because of (a) the cost (b) the trouble and (c) the expectation that I will be in decent shape to get up and preach on Sunday morning.
Still, it would have been nice.
Had I been there I wonder if I would have heard Paul sing his Beatles classic “Hello Goodbye”: “I don’t know why you say ‘goodbye,’ I say ‘hello,’” it goes.
The past few days have made me think a lot about hello and goodbye and about the wonder and glory and the pain and agony of them.
Our daughter Sara has since January been working as an intern at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida on what was to have been a six-month assignment; during that time she has been working at Epcot at the Innoventions and Mission Space Race attractions. She has enjoyed the work but I think that she has enjoyed those co-workers who have become her friends, most of whom are also interns, even more.
But internships are temporary and over the past couple of weeks Sara and some of her best friends, people to whom she first said “Hello” just a few months ago, have now said “Goodbye.” On the other hand, Sara has extended her internship through next January (she’ll be working at the Great Movie Ride at Disney Hollywood Studios; if you go down be sure to go by and say “Hello”) and so she will have the opportunity to maintain some of her friendships with other interns who have also extended and with some of the “regulars.”
The reason that Joshua flew into the Atlanta airport last night is that he had just finished a three-month stint working with the Southwest Conservation Corps in Salida, Colorado, during which he worked with other young adults building trails, putting up fences, constructing outdoor stairways, and rounding up lizards for scientific research—among other things. He worked very closely with and lived very closely to seven other men and women who are about his age; such proximity creates a high level of camaraderie. But now he has had to say “Goodbye” to his friends to whom he first said “Hello” just three months ago.
Since I arrived at the airport over two hours before Joshua’s arrival last night and since I was in the Arrivals area I got to watch a lot of people saying “Hello.” I saw a young soldier being greeted by his father and his sister, a young lady nearly breaking the neck of her boyfriend as she threw her arms around him and just hung there, an upper middle aged/lower senior aged couple locked in a long, long embrace—the longest one I saw, by the way, which fills me with optimism--a grandchild holding a sign greeting her grandmother that I’m not sure the grandmother ever saw because when the little girl saw her she forgot all about the sign and just grabbed her grandmother; and two old friends shaking hands and clapping shoulders.
Had I been in the Departures area I would have seen the other side; I would have witnessed the tears, the holding on for just one more second, the waves, and the looks over the shoulders.
It’s fair to say, I think, that most such hellos and goodbyes are temporary. Oh, there may be a few of those folks that I saw greeting each other at the airport who may never again be parted for any significant length of time and there may be some of those folks who bid farewell at the airport who may never see each other again whether or not they know it now. But the fact is that, given the wonders of modern technology and the ease of modern travel, my children will likely be able to maintain their friendships with those friends from whom they have recently parted if they really want to do so.
It’s also fair to say, I think, that many “Hellos” and “Goodbyes” are more complex than brief scenes, however poignant they may be, can indicate. Let’s face it—some of those folks saying “Goodbye” may have been to some degree glad to be going or glad to see them going; some of the “Hellos” offered by other folks may have been tinged with some trepidation about the words or actions that might come next.
It’s also fair to say that some “Hellos” and some “Goodbyes” feel awfully permanent—and some are.
Most of my family members live between my home in Fitzgerald and the airport in Atlanta and so I took advantage of that fact to stop along the way to the airport to visit as many of them as I could.
At one stop I learned that a cousin of mine and his wife have separated and are likely headed toward divorce. It occurred to me that it is just possible, given the dynamics of the situation, that I will never see her again.
At another stop I spent some time with an uncle who is very near death. I am just a month away from turning 51 and there has not been one moment of my life when he has not been there and when he has not been my uncle but, barring a miracle,my “goodbye” to him yesterday was probably the last one.
It’s all about relationships and relationships by their very nature begin and end and by their very nature have in between their beginning and ending changes and adjustments and ebbs and flows because in between the gain of the first “Hello” and the loss of the last “Goodbye” there are many more “Hellos” and “Goodbyes” and much more gain and much more loss.
What we hope and pray and live for is that, in the last analysis, when the last “Goodbye” is uttered and the eternal “Hello” is said, the hellos will have outlasted the goodbyes and the gains will have outweighed the losses.
And through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I believe, that is the inevitable and inexorable outcome.
So, even with the tears in our eyes, let us say “Thanks be to God!”