Monday, December 3, 2012

Goodbyes and Kind Things Like That

Today I taught my first college class for the last time. Towards the end of the session, something weird happened. An outlandish desire to hold on to these 20something’s who wouldn’t be able to tell anyone anything about me, in whose faces I saw not names, but percentages. As they left, they turned in their papers, gave me the 5-second-American-smile and walked away. In a moment of spontaneity, I wondered if I should bar the door with my body and demand hugs, against everything in the professional conduct code. I looked down, gathering papers, and marveled over the end of things, why it means so much. 

My favorite student came up to me. Yes I know, it’s not right to have favorites. You have to treat everyone the same way. Perhaps I still have favorites because I’m new at this, or maybe it’s because with no explanation, those who draw us draw us, and those who put us off put us off. He came up to me and took his quiz. I prepared myself for the casual nod and smile, and he said, “thank you for this semester, have a good life!” I laughed, replying “Good luck on the final!”, and loved him for a brief second. That’s how I will always remember this day now. 
In the poetic words of Dostoyevsky, “Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” Goodbyes mean so much. Ask the person who loses a loved one to some form of ending, and there’s a high chance you will hear them say “I never got the chance to say goodbye.” There is a mark for the beginning, but without a sort of goodbye, in the end everything seems to float away, without cause, without any definition; an incomplete circle. The ends of things are hard enough, and like any other kind of pain, ignoring them only makes them hurt more.

Because we live, we get the opportunity to make a mark. Not just in the things we endeavor to make a mark in - sometimes we never get that priviledge - but in everything we do. Not only in the things we say, but in the times when we stay silent. You may never get to be the third world activist you want to be, cure cancer, or fulfill even simple, perfectly reasonable dreams, like being a good father. But there are dreams all around you. Not yours sometimes but by some twist of fate, in your power to fulfill. There are always open places for you to make a mark. So be kind in your words and silences. Express the things in your heart to the people who flutter through your life, while you have them. Live well. Leave well.

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