The Gentle Art Of Saying Goodbye

Anne Lamott says, “Try walking around with a child who’s going, “Wow, wow! Look at that dirty dog! Look at that burned-down house! Look at that red sky! And the child points and you look, and you start going, “Wow! Look at that huge crazy hedge! Look at that teeny little baby! Look at that scary dark cloud!” I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world—present and in awe.”
— Anne Lamott, as quoted by Leigh Shulman

Welcome to the Stories of Good series. These are stories by guest writers on the theme of good: finding good, losing good, witnessing good, giving good. Goodness is an important theme in my own writing, and I am attracted to similar stories by others.

This story is by the wonderfully talented Leigh Shulman, who, in many ways, embodies what is good in the writing world: she writes well, shares her knowledge, and inspires many. Her works are intimate but far reaching, about travel to foreign places, but also about herself. Each essay is an intimate picture of her soul and the things she is drawn to. From the moment I read her writing , I wanted her to write a Story of Good. So happy to share this specially commissioned piece with you, on how goodbye can be a good.

Great slices of laughter peel down beige walls and bounce off the shiny marbled floors of the airport café as three little girls, ages four, nine and ten, play.....

Up and down the elevator, tag-you’re-it on the stairs, they giggle their way toward goodbye when Ary, the smallest of the three must board a flight with her parents and fly back to Australia.

They are: Sujeeva, warm like sunshine. David is the calm, and Ary, full of energy and fire. I don’t have the slightest when I’ll see them again.

Airports are rarely beautiful, and this one is no exception. Ubiquitous black tables and chairs rest atop an ugly brown and beige marbled floor.  I’ve been here many times before, but never with so many people. This time, there are enough of us to fill the large booth at the back of the restaurant. I’ve always wondered who sits there. How do you arrive at the airport with a group of nine? Did they know each other before? Do they travel together? Are they family? Or like us, are they friends coming to say farewell to other friends?

I don’t cry at airports anymore.

Oh, I understand why people dislike airports. They’re sterile, hasty places designed specifically for impermanence, yet, where else can you observe an entire gallery of human beings in transit? A soldier returns home. The edges of his eyes crinkle upward; even so, he’s tired. A little girl fidgets and contorts her mouth at her reflection in the metal of the waiting room seat. “Like those fun mirrors,” she notices. She’s still bored of waiting. An impeccably groomed woman in impossibly high leopard spotted heels frets, glances at her watch as a family of five slows her down in the security line.

Anne Lamott says “Try walking around with a child who’s going," Wow, wow! Look at that dirty dog! Look at that burned-down house. Look at that red sky. And the child points and you look, and you start going, “Wow! Look at that huge crazy hedge! Look at that teeny little baby! Look at that scary dark cloud!” I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world — present and in awe.”

There is a endless universe of blank when you first encounter another person. Absolutely anything could be. What’s his favorite food? Does she have a temper? Where did they meet? And thus the outer layers begin to unfold.

Rewind 18 months to before I knew Sujeeva, when she wrote me asking for advice about living in Salta. I wrote back. She hired me to research schools for her daughter. She thanked me for doing a better job than she’d even expected, and a few splotches of paint color the empty canvas. A bit of pink, the color of my cheeks as I smile and remember how wonderful it is to feel appreciated.

That blank now owns a deep red cherry print dress as she deftly commands the kitchen, teaches me to temper the mustard and cumin seeds before adding them to the dhal. They brought a machine to peel apples with them to Salta. You stick an apple on a spike, turn the crank, and it skins the entire thing in one long springy strip. I smell granny smith green as it twists to the ground. Dark coffee, blond beer, deep red copas de vino. Really, any drink is an occasion to sit and chat for hours.

We don powder blue and white striped t-shirts bought at the free shop in the central market. They’re hard, plasticky things that don’t let your skin breathe. How worth it to be wearing celeste y blanco as we roar cheers of joy as Romero brilliantly blocks penalty kick after kick?

Apricot, citron and fuchsia striped textiles decorate the deep lime walls of their living room where our daughters laugh endlessly about I-don’t-know-and-everything don’t what. They brought them back along with tupperware from a visa run to Bolivia. David filled the plum colored tupperware with beans and rice to feed us after our baby was born. She brought curried green beans with my favorite spicy tomato chutney. I forgot to return it.

I’ve grown accustomed to saying goodbye.

Goodbye means letting go, but letting go means different things at different times. It means divest yourself of things. It means dare to leave yourself naked of expectation. It says rid yourself of whatever you think normal means, and embrace life’s whimsy, because you truly never know what comes next.

Sometimes, goodbye is just that last quick hug at the airport, before your friend disappears into a crowd of bodies in the security line.

We make plans, of course. I’ve never been to Melbourne. Or maybe they’ll visit us when we go to Bali, maybe next year. It takes faith in the future, trust that strong ties remain and acceptance that, yes, even with the best of intentions, sometimes we forget each other.

I’ve learned how to say this kind of goodbye, because I know more possibility still exists.

Alan Watts reminds us “there is no other reality than present reality, so that, even if one were to live for endless ages, to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly.”

Live in the wondrous and spontaneous now as you allow your moments to be filled with joy. I look into Sujeeva’s kind brown eyes. Her round face always smiling. “I’ll see you soon,” we say. Do not be sad for what may or may not be. Instead, rejoice in those moments together, and relish the laughter of three little girls who have entirely forgotten they must ever say farewell.

So we say goodbye. She goes to the line, walks behind the security door and into the waiting room where I can no longer see them. That’s that; I breathe.

-Leigh Shulman

A bit about the author: Leigh Shulman moves around a lot. She has lived on five continents and worked as everything from website designer for MTV to a university writing professor in NYC to teaching photography to indigenous Wichi children in NW Argentina. She writes mostly about the complications of raising children when you travel, as an expat and people who generally make choices that veer toward the unexpected. She is currently working on a book based on the journal she kept while pregnant with her first child.

Leigh began her blog The Future Is Red when she, her husband and young daughter sold everything they owned in Brooklyn and left to travel the world. She now lives in NW Argentina with her family, where she writes as well as co-founded Creative Revolution Retreats, international writing retreats for women. Her writing and work has been featured in the New York Times, The Guardian, Guernica and The Jewish Daily Forward among others. 

Please leave a comment or a like, just below. Sharing is caring! Thanks for reading!