Saying Goodbye

By Carolyn Lyon James

A high school friend of mine recently reached out to let me know she was going to be in the area and wanted to get together. We each contacted a few more friends, and soon we had a mini-reunion planned. It had been decades since I had seen some of these people, so I was really excited to meet up with them after such a long time apart. A few days before our get-together, I caught sight of myself in a mirror. I noticed age spots on my nose, crow’s feet and wrinkles all over my face, and a wide ribbon of gray hair on my head. I was suddenly nervous to meet everyone after so much time had elapsed. We were all such good friends in high school, it was hard to believe that we had lost touch with each other. But thirty years had passed since we last said goodbye to each other. A lifetime. I was a different person now.

As educators, it seems as though our careers are built on saying goodbye. Even as we greet kids for the first time each fall, we are preparing them to leave us every spring. That’s how we know we’ve done our job correctly. We have given them the tools and education they need to move on to the next grade, or onto college and a career for themselves. It’s a bittersweet moment when you spend nine months building a relationship with students, just to say goodbye to them at the end of the school year.

I have come across students after years of not seeing them. It’s always exciting to see who they have become. I’ll see them working at jobs they love… and jobs they hate. I have run into some of them home from college or in town after moving away. It’s interesting to see if their friend groups have remained intact, or if they have drifted apart and made new friends. It really is a wonderful gift when kids you haven’t seen in many years come back to update you on where they are, what they’re doing, and who they’ve remained friends with.

Saying goodbye is rarely easy to do — even when the situation no longer suits your needs. There are mountains of books, videos, and articles written to help people let go of things and people they no longer need. It’s especially difficult when you come to realize that perhaps you were the person that someone else let go of.

After we contacted all the friends, near and far, that we could get hold of for our mini class reunion, it was a gut punch when some of these dear high school friends turned us down with “reasons” that seemed rather trivial. “I have to clean the kitchen floor” and “my mom might be calling me” were two of the ones we heard. When the day finally came for the rest of us to meet, I could see some wrinkles and gray hair, but mostly I saw the same silly grins and twinkling eyes of my dearest friends. We may not have seen each other in decades, but we gathered together as if hardly any time at all had passed. And when we parted, promising each other that we would do this again next year, I felt replenished and whole again in a way I hadn’t felt in a very long time.

As summer winds down, and we educators prepare to start a new school year, most of us can’t help but feel a little nostalgic — a small longing for the long summer days that seemed to stretch on forever, vacations and excursions that revitalized and renewed, and warm nights staring into a fire or up at a sky full of stars. We will greet this year’s students and begin the nine-month-long goodbye as we prepare our students to learn from us and then leave us to move on to the next level in their education.

I have said goodbye to a lot of people in the last few years. I am glad I finally got to say hello again to friends I thought I had lost — people who helped to shape me to be who I am today. A lot has happened to all of us in thirty years, but it all melted away as we laughed, talked, and embraced each other once again. It feels good knowing that not all goodbyes are forever.