“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” – Dan Wilson, “Closing Time”
A friend recently shared a picture of the two of us sitting together on the bleachers of our high school gymnasium when we were fourteen years old. As I a lingered over the photo, I was struck with the powerful feeling of regret – regret that I never really said goodbye to him or any other of my friends when I moved away a few years later. And, regret that I no longer had my favorite plaid wool jacket and those cool calf-high suede cowboy boots.
The coat was burned up by a fire log that rolled onto it from a campfire. The coat was soaking wet from melted Iowa snow when I laid it out next to the fire to dry. When my buddies and I came back from searching for more firewood, we found the coat in flames.
Why is it I notice a shirt, or coat, or pair of boots in a photo forty or fifty years old, and can remember the clothing as if it were a long-lost friend? I look at it, and the shirt, or jacket, or boots I am wearing take me back to that exact place and time that I left so long ago. The feelings of the young adolescent come rising from the deepest place in my nether-regions to remind me of my internal ancestry, my history, my story.
Within a week, I replaced that coat with another one—one I ordered from a Sears catalog. It was a reversible coat that was fluorescent orange on one side, and a Day-Glo paisley print on the other. My entire class was envious of my hip psychedelic jacket. I think that’s how I got elected class president—my last claim to fame.
So, goodbye to one favorite coat and hello to another, and so on and so forth.
Since then, I have said goodbye to a lot. I have said goodbye to three homes and communities. I have said goodbye to pets, and to favorite cars. I have said final goodbyes to sisters, to parents, family members, and friends who have died. I have said goodbye to men I loved and cared for as they lost their struggle with addiction. I have said goodbye to my wife and children in my journey to recovery.
And then, there comes something new, something different, to fill the hole left behind. Something to say hello to—a new city, a new community, different faces, yet the same humanity. A new coat, and a new pair of boots. Hello again to my wife and children.
Letting go of something that is gone is not easy. Neither is grabbing on to something that is not wholly there—more a shadow of hope than a sure reality. But that seems to be the way I move from chapter to chapter and season to season through my life. Letting go of a vine about to break to grab on to one I have not yet tested. Trusting that the next move will hold, at least as long as it was made for, and then I will reach out again to say hello to the next vine offered.
Today, I have a favorite hoodie, bought while in Ireland. It is not just a hoodie. It represents the ever-changing landscape of my life. There will be a time I will have to say goodbye to it, and exchange it for another.
We move on through life from one garment to the next, until there is but one more to take off and one last one to put on. And while I am not quite ready today– I know when the time to say that final goodbye comes, I will be. I will move on to the next hello.