Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Exactly Is So "Good" About "Goodbye?"

These weeks have been a round of farewell parties, farewell dinners with special friends, and “last times” for many things. When I retired last week they gave me a great sendoff from work [photo] filled with somewhat predictable touches like a letter from the Director thanking me for my service, and some unpredictable ones. My secretary Brenda, with whom I’d spent far too many groggy mornings coordinating review schedules at 7:30 AM, gave me a pretty battery-operated clock WITHOUT an alarm function - she must’ve been searching hard to find that.
Then there was the bon voyage party at the marina, where I delighted in flaunting my new retired status by introducing my FORMER colleague Frances to Dan’s FORMER colleagues Dick and Lynn and Matt, and to numerous of our dockmates and liveaboard friends. These are the people who’ve been my “family” for the last seven years. As we travel on our boat this winter, I think I’ll find a lot of friendliness from fellow boaters. The people we meet traveling will have similar interests to ours; we’ll all need each others’ help from time to time, and can benefit from each others’ insights. I’ve been told by people who’ve done the trip before that there’ll be lots of socializing, lots of potlucks and happy hours with other boaters. It will be pleasant and there’s always a rush in meeting new people.
Only now am I beginning to internalize the difference between friendliness and friendship. What makes a friendship? Sharing ordinary times, long walks together with dogs, meeting each other in supermarket or the parking lot, adjusting docklines on each others’ boats in a storm, is part of it. But a real friendship, for me, needs more. Shared goals and shared memories and shared stories, of times we’ve been vulnerable to each other, laughed together, helped each other. Amazing memories like John and Diane’s wedding. They were married on a small boat, so Diane didn’t walk down the aisle. Instead, Dan rowed her to the wedding in a flower-bedecked dinghy. Or the incredible help and support, the long list of friends who came to the hospital when Dan was ill, James and Ellen holding my hands and meeting with the doctor after the surgery, and then the wealth of visitors while he was recovering from surgery, Dick and Larry and Sarah and Juan and Melissa and Ellen and Diane and Kat and Eric and Ed. A deep friendship is built of those special memories as well as the ordinary times.
I’m sure we’ll make new friends on the trip, but we’re hoping to keep the old as well. It takes time and history to build those memories and friendships, and knowing that I would not have those friends nearby as we left on our travels was also part of what made embarking on this adventure bittersweet. At the same time, email technology will take most of the sting out of those farewells, as I told my friends “I don’t have to really say goodbye, I’ll just say ‘e’ you later!”

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