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Hello, Goodbye

A conversation I had the other day made me think about how and when we say goodbye to people we know. That in turn led me to wonder about how we say hello. This dynamic tossed around inside my head for awhile, and I came to a conclusion about the two-step process. Allow me to explain my thoughts.

We see lots of people day-in, day-out. Most of these people we will never see again. With 6 billion people on the planet, it's not unusual that we'd encounter most human beings only once. But what of the people with whom we are closest to in our lives? Family, friends, co-workers? How do we -- and have we -- said goodbye to them? Indeed, how did we say hello?

It occurred to me that how we say hello, while holding a very important place in our social intercourse, is often not well-remembered (at least by me). I can remember the first time I met Ashley. That's a given. I can remember the first time I was introduced to my co-workers. I remember the first time I met my friend Gordy, because it was rather clandestine. But my mom? Dad? Aunts & uncles? Dear friends such as Xian, Amanda, Terry, Tom and Alison? I really have no clue. I likely couldn't remember my first encounters with them upon pain of death. With parents and family members, it's more understandable, but with friends?

What of goodbyes? This is the area that most folks tend to dwell on. Or maybe it's just me? At any rate, we often remember 'the last time' we saw so-and-so (a parent, friend, or loved one) for the very last time. Even Hollywood movies make a big deal about goodbyes, farewells, etc. The parting of the ways between Bogart and Bergman in Casablanca has become an iconic cinema moment. How and when we say goodbye to someone or something would seem to be high on the list of importance for many human beings.

I can remember the last occasions I saw my friend Tracy, my father, my paternal grandmother, and a few more. With others -- my friends Bret, Jesse, etc. -- our last encounters are not clearly remembered. Indeed, many of our final interactions with folks are rather unremarkable, especially when we don't know that they may be the last ones. And what of the cruelty of diseases like Alzheimer's? I last saw my paternal grandmother (Mama Callie) in October 2007, for her 100th birthday, but she did not know who I was. The time before that was in late 1997, when she was in the hospital for a broken hip, and we had a nice conversation about my late father. So which occasion counts as the last? The one where we had a lucid, touching conversation, or when I saw her physically, but dementia had erased her recollection of who I was?

In the quest to deduce the perfect hello and goodbye situations (and how to remember them), I suddenly hit upon a "Eureka!" moment, and realized that, in the grand scheme of things, it may not actually matter all that much. People and places come and go. Is the last time someone saw Paris as important as what all they did there? Is the last time I saw my friend Tracy as important as all of our interactions together, and the memories he left behind with friends and family? I don't think so.

Hellos and Goodbyes stand as landmarks to our time together, but they do not define that time. They do not make our familial and social lives what they are. What's most important is how we lived together, not how we opened and closed those relationships. In the end, we're all just memories, good and bad, who at one time said 'hello' and 'goodbye' to one another in some form or fashion. Surely that's more important than the how?


  1. You know, Matt, I've been dwelling a lot lately on just this topic because I lost a childhood friend a couple of years ago and never got to say goodbye. I think you've raised a really good point; that the goodbye isn't always all that important. It really is the time that was spent that matters.

    Thank you.


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