For this blog entry I’m going to write about graduation and saying goodbye. Many of you are before or after that threshold so your perspectives may be keener and wiser than my own. The future works on my brain like a highway sign works on my eyes. As it draws closer my eyes fuzz over and zone out. When the sign is directly next to my car window there is not a good chance I’ll see that the speed limit is 70 (while I’ve likely been pushing 90). Now I can imagine what it would be like for a road sign to come closer and closer and then actually hit me in eye. I don’t think I would be able to focus on the sign or any other aspect of my worldly surroundings. Likely I would have closed my eyes and tensed up my muscles the moments before initial contact. Right now graduation is coming closer and closer and it’s about to hit me square in the eyes. Both of them. And it’s going to hurt a little bit. So naturally I have my eyes closed and my muscles tensed up. In other words, bear with my impaired sense of vision on my own future happenings.
I’ve been wondering, while considering how to go about saying goodbye to my dearest friends and colleagues, notably the ones in the S-LC, whether goodbye is actually a word. By this I mean, what does the abstraction actually imply? To me it sounds like “have a good bye”. A bye must mean something significant, but on Wikipedia it’s defined as a special kind of point one can score in the game of Cricket. That doesn’t make sense (maybe it does, but to say “have a good cricket point” is a bit too flippant a phrase for what a serious graduation ceremony requires). Whenever I say goodbye to someone I think, oh that was a formality—something to fill in the silence. So maybe it’s just a value-empty human grunt meant for little more than its utility in breaking silences. But in the context of a ceremonious and poignant departing (like leaving friends after graduation), something needs to be said that has meaning, not just a grunt. And for people to have used the word “goodbye” for so many generations, the term must hold some significance sufficient for such a circumstance.
All of this internal conversation, though, is getting old. I would rather spend time telling my revision of the Biblical parable, the Good Samaritan, as it takes place at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI. The story begins on an early fall evening, sometime in September, when college bound Jane Smith walks onto Calvin’s campus for the first time. She is beginning her first semester at Calvin. All alone and with high anxiety levels, Jane Smith finds herself in a void of healthy social interaction, a ditch of sorts. As she sits in her room, a local resident walks in her room to say hi. This person is very kind and outgoing, a modern “priest” of sorts. She is clearly high on some social ladder Jane isn’t aware of. “Hello” she says, and as Jane starts to talk, the priestly girl zones out and cuts off the conversation early. Later the resident Barnabas for Jane’s floor comes up to her. The Barnabas was clearly put into the position because of some great personal qualification, which she undoubtedly possesses. She is a modern “Levite” of sorts. This Levitical resident says hi, asks if Jane would like to become involved (a very kind gesture), then leaves with Jane’s appropriate response (“yeah, sure I’d love to. Let me know when you’re doing stuff”). Lastly, another girl walks in. Her name is Liz, and she’s not from around here. In fact, her situation is quite similar to Jane’s—lonely and alienated. After a brief introduction, the new girl walks into her room, sits on an unmade bed, and quietly the two go on biding their boredom together. >> FAST FORWARD >> It is now three and three fourths (?) years later and Jane is graduating. Jane recollects her first interaction with the priestly girl. Still very appreciative of that first encounter, Jane goes up and gives the priestly girl a big hug. The priestly girl, says, “Wow, it was great to know you. I hope you have a great future! Never change! Goodbye.” Then they hug and part ways. Jane makes her way over to the Levitical girl and taps her on the shoulder. The girl says, in a very spiritually tempered manner, “Thanks for everything Jane. God will bless you in your future.” They shake hands, say goodbye, and part ways. However, Jane doesn’t see Liz anywhere that day. No worry, Liz is her best friend. Goodbye isn’t necessary at this point.
Why do I relate to this story? Because I rarely say goodbye to my best friends. I say goodbye to the people for whom the formality of our relationship requires closure. But to say goodbye to a friend isn’t fitting. And then, why do I compare a friend to the subtly alluded Samaritan in the narrative above? Because the story of the Good Samaritan ends like this: “The next day [the Samaritan] took out two denarii [money I think] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have’.” It is important to note that the Samaritan left when the main character was not fully conscious and able to respond. But the Samaritan promised a return. And further, upon his return the Samaritan promised to pay off his debts. What is the content of their relationship? It is the closest friendship, one that is bound by service. The Samaritan left with the promise of a future where he would continue to serve, continue to care, and never really be gone from the side of his friend. When I leave my friends and colleagues after this year, I will not say goodbye and mean it (if I say it that’s because our conversation got to that awkward silence—sorry). Instead I’m leaving my friends with the promise of a future with them. And in this future I’m going to be there serving them, in whatever form service will present itself. I’m looking forward to that. And like Jeff Bouman playing whirly-ball, I say, bring it on!