So How Do I Say Goodbye…

“How lucky I am to have something so special, that makes saying goodbye so hard.” Julia Carmona ’24’s final remark during her reflection at All-School Meeting resonated with me long after the actual echo had died inside the Cochran Chapel. Spring is supposed to be about new life and beginnings, yet amidst the blooming winter jasmines and the cherry blossoms, there have to be goodbyes.
I often wonder if “goodbye” is one of the first words to be invented in the human language. There is “hello,” “hi,” and all the greetings we use when we meet new people. The introductory remarks, which spark our friendships and relationships with others, inevitably have their counterparts when we part ways from those we meet. Every language has a word for goodbye. Sometimes, the farewells are the same as the greetings. In Italian, ‘Ciao’ means both goodbye and hello; in French, people say ‘salut’; and in Hawaiian, there is ‘aloha,’ which also translates to the breath of life. One can say that there is also an equivalent word in English: “good day.” “Good day” as in “good morning,” when one passes by a friend on the way to Paresky Commons, or “good day” as in “have a nice day” when one goes separate ways after class to go to sports. In a sense, one is communicating their salutations and expressing their good wishes at the same time, so goodbye is also a way of greeting, and one greets with hindsight that a farewell will eventually come.
There are even different ‘degrees’ of goodbyes. If it is just a short time of separation, there is “see you soon,” “see you around” or simply “see you.” It could also be a succinct and brisk “bye” when you are in a hurry. You are probably smiling as you say these words, knowing that you will eventually see the people again. But when you say the entire thing—“goodbye”—there is weight in its length and gravity. We smile because it’s the only thing we can do to stop our tears from falling.
In both literature and movies, we often encounter characters bidding each other farewells. You may have read the book “A Long Goodbye” by Raymond Chandler who writes, “to say goodbye is to die a little.” Maybe you have watched “The Truman Show”, and heard the host, before he leaves the world he has lived in for almost the entirety of his life, say “In case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!” But no matter how many times we’ve seen the characters hug as they turn around to leave, or how many times we’ve read about the carriage driving away and disappearing in the distance, goodbyes in real life still feel surreal. The goodbyes we have to say to those we know and love cannot be experienced through a book or through a screen. Those goodbyes are too awkward, too deep, too gentle to come right at you all at once with full force. Those goodbyes are in the dented steps of Paresky Commons, the afternoons spent on the great lawn, the late nights studying together for a chemistry test. Those goodbyes, we know deep in our hearts, are not just goodbyes: they are all the laughs and tears muffled, the good and bad memories buried.
The worst part is finding the right time to say goodbye. It cannot be too early — for the fear it will bring about unnecessary sadness too soon — but it cannot be too late since many regrets are made for not having enough time for an adequate goodbye. It has to be the right time, before one dives into the new world, and after one has made closure with the old one. One can only hope to get a “goodbye” right, knowing all along that no time is ever good for goodbye, that goodbye defies the concept of time.
But you have to say the word eventually.
Goodbyes aren’t really for those that are leaving, but for those that stay. After the word is said, the seniors graduate, the current Uppers become the new Seniors and the clock is reset. Next year in spring, there will be goodbyes, again. Somehow, each time, we deal with farewells a bit better. We eventually find a way to reconcile with the fact that we may never see the people we share the same class, the same struggle, and the same high school years with. But time simply moves on and you are forced to move with it. By the time it is our turn to say those words, we would have become a veteran already. We would have felt what Julia was feeling when she said those words on ASM. We would have known that we don’t truly leave a place but simply bring it with us. We would have known “goodbyes” are really ‘Ciao,’ ‘Salut,’ and ‘Aloha’ all combined, that old parts of us don’t have to die for new buds to blossom, that spring is both for beginnings and endings. No matter what happens next, we know we are truly lucky to have something so special that makes saying goodbye so hard.