Some friends of ours moved last week. Traded one set of blue mountains for a set of rocky ones. It’s something they’ve wanted to do for a while (he has family in Colorado, not twenty miles from their new home, and she grew up in nearby Boulder). Their move had less to do with the economy than a simple desire for a change of scenery. I nodded when they told me that, but I didn’t really understand. Who would want to leave rural Virginia?
I’ve known them for about fifteen years now. They’ve been to my home, I’ve been to theirs. We’ve shared meals and Christmas presents and birthday parties for our children. It’s a sad thing that in a world defined by hustle and bustle and there’s-always-something-going-on, few people slow down enough to make good friends. That’s what I’d call them—good friends.
But they’re gone now, a thousand miles westward. They will find new lives, and I will keep my old one.
Their leaving was a bit anti-climactic. That surprised me. I suppose deep down I knew what I had yet to consider, which was that they’d still be around. There’s the phone, of course. E-mail. Facebook and Twitter. Skype. No matter that two mountain ranges and a great big river separated us, they’d still be no more than a few button pushes away.
That’s when I realized how much the world has shrunk. Never mind that our technology has made it possible to cure disease and peer into the deepest reaches of the universe and know within moments what has happened in a tiny spot across the world. It has done something more profound than all of those things together.
It has lifted from us the heavy weight of ever having to say goodbye.
I’ve read stories of families separated during the Great Depression, of parents and children cleaved apart as some remained behind and others struck out for new territories and better hope. They had to say their goodbyes. Many were never heard from again. Can you imagine?
I remember looking around at my classmates during high school graduation and thinking that I’d never see or hear from most of them again. These were friends, many of whom I’d known since third grade. They’d shared my life, I’d shared theirs. Yet as I sat there I knew all of that was slipping away. I knew that to live was not about being born and dying later, it was to endure many births and suffer many deaths, and sometimes that birth and death happens in the same moment.
I was right. Twenty years later, I’ve not seen many of them. But more than one have friended me on Facebook, and from all over the world.
This should make me feel good, I guess. Aside from death, there are no farewells now. There is always “Talk to you soon” or “Shoot me an email” or “DM me.”
But I don’t feel particularly good. I think we’re missing out on something if we never have to say goodbye anymore. I think it robs us of the necessity of truly understanding the impact some people have on our lives, and the impact we have on the lives of others. To have to say goodbye is to know a part of you is leaving or staying, either scattered through the world or planted where you are.
I say this because just a bit ago, I received an email (plus pictures) from my friends. Things are well with them. They’re settling in and getting used to things. They’re happy. And that’s good.
But rather than casually shooting an email back, I think I’ll sit down and take my time. I think I’ll treat it as a farewell, even though it isn’t. I think I’ll tell them just how much I’ll miss them even though it’ll be as if we’re still just down the road from each other.
I figure somewhere deep down, they’ll need that goodbye. I know I do.