The Bittersweetness of Human Relationships

The good good-bye includes: acknowledging feelings, sharing memories,
offering praise, making a promise, and giving a final blessing.
— Danita Nolan

Olivia has recently started to wave good-bye to people when they’re leaving our house.  She seems to have an easier time saying words that begin with ‘B’, so the fact that she’s able to say “bye bye” isn’t too surprising; the fact that, in addition to the young child’s usual finger-bending wave, she sometimes does the wrist-twisting “royal” wave was rather less expected!  In any case, we haven’t really had much success getting her to wave hello — or if she does, she still says “bye bye” as if it were like “aloha” or “shalom”.  Of course, when she does wave “bye bye” it’s almost always in a context where “au revoir” or “see you again soon” would be appropriate.

Life is filled with many occasions to say either “hello” or “good-bye”.  Most of these are everyday interactions with people we see often: family members at the start and end of each day, good friends we meet for coffee, colleagues at our daily places of work, the regular cashiers at the supermarket.  In these cases, each “hello” and “good-bye” is another exchange in an on-going conversation stretching across the days, the weeks and the years.  Each is a picking up of a relationship from before and a promise to resume it again in the near future.

Less often we find ourselves saying “hello” for the very first time or saying “good-bye” for the very last time.  Whether we’re introverts or extroverts, we tend to be more willing to embrace the former rather than the latter.  When we greet someone for the first time, when we welcome them into the place where we already are, there’s the promise of future possibilities, the hope for new friendships and shared experiences.  When we bid someone farewell, on the other hand, we’re confronted with the ending of that promise, with the inevitability of, if not the loss of those friendships then at least their transformation in ways that we did not desire.  Saying “good-bye” is harder than saying “hello”, so most of us often avoid it if we can.

In today’s world, where society is so much more mobile than ever before, friendships are more likely to span a few years rather than a few decades.  That’s particularly true here in Hampton Roads, where we have both college students looking for a Unitarian Universalist home away from home as well as military personnel and their families whose stationing here is just as temporary.  When they and others come to the Fellowship for the first time — and particularly if they participate in a membership orientation and then sign the book to join — we do a great job of welcoming them into this beloved community that we’re growing together, and we covenant with them to support our mission and ministry together.

What about when they leave, though?  In those cases where people would otherwise continue to be a part of our congregation were it not for some significant change in life circumstances — graduation, military deployment, a job opportunity, retirement — I believe it’s as important for us, as a community, to be able to say “good-bye” as it was for us to have said “hello” when they first joined us.  Whether they always knew they would be with us for only a limited time or whether their move out of our area became necessary on other grounds, saying “good-bye” allows us to acknowledge the bittersweetness of human relationships, that it is sad to see them go and yet we remain glad that we have known them.  It gives us the opportunity to bring to mind the experiences we have shared together, to thank them for the ways in which their presence and participation have contributed to our community, and to wish them well on their journeys, whatever their destinations may be.

Saying “good-bye” is not only for the benefit of those departing, however.  In bidding farewell to those who have been a part of this congregation that is what we bring to it, we make a promise to ourselves that we shall continue to be the special place that welcomed us, each in our turn, through its doors for the first time.  We make a promise to continue striving to be a spiritual home for all those who seek us, all those who need us, all those who would join with us in opening doors and hearts for friends and strangers alike.  And we renew our promise to one another that, wherever this journey of the spirit that we call life may take us in the future, we shall remember that love will be around us, everywhere we go.


About acmillard

Andrew serves as minister to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula in Newport News, Virginia.
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4 Responses to The Bittersweetness of Human Relationships

  1. Brad Garbus says:

    Life is so very precious and each person we encounter is sacred. Every moment we share with others if a beautiful gift. Thank you for reminding us of how beautiful and precious the time we share at our UUFP home is.

  2. Sandy Burkes-Campbell says:

    Thank you Andrew for pointing these things out to us. It is true that we live in a transitional community. I develop meaningful relationships at work with military families each year and am enriched by each one all the while knowing that they will be transferred or deployed. We must embrace the time we have with these families and appreciate what they bring to our community.

  3. Pat Yaros says:

    Thanks for a thought-provoking description of the way things ought to be. I will strive to make use of this way of looking at relationships in my interactions with others from now on.

    Pat Yaros

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