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Columns

You Had Me At Goodbye

By Rachel D. Levy, Contributing Opinion Writer
Rachel D. Levy ’22 is an Environmental Science and Public Policy concentrator in Pforzheimer House. Her column “The Experiment of Life” appears on alternate Mondays.

Life, lately, has seemed like it’s full of goodbyes. Whether it be to friends, partners, or phases of life, no amount of scratching and clawing at the way things used to be is actually keeping them that way.

Maybe you’ve been haunted, too, by the ghosts of your past — unable to detach yourself from the moments you shared with a person or in a place you wish you could return to. After many failed attempts to hold on to the relationships I’ve had with people, places, and things once the connection had begun to fade naturally, I’m beginning to reframe what it has to mean to say goodbye in the first place.

I’ve come to see that everything in life comes and goes in phases. There’s a natural ebb and flow to life; it’s a dance we’re, unfortunately, not leading. In this dance, relationships and experiences come and go with the rhythm of life. With the coming is the going, you cannot have the full experience of one without the other.

As wonderful as it is when newness dances into your life, perhaps it can be as wonderful when it dances out again. Change being unavoidable, is it possible to welcome it? When we embrace the idea that all things end, we can be more intentional about enjoying them while they last. However, when we try to assume control of the goings-on of the universe and seek to force situations to last past their natural ending, we turn a beautiful experience into a painful, ugly shadow of itself and taint all of the things that made it worth wanting to hold on to in the first place. The beautiful dance turns into choppy, awkward movements — the rhythm of life thrown off course when we try to impose our will.

At the foundation of this idea is a sense of wonder and gratitude we can cultivate towards the chaotic universe for ever having led us to cross paths with a specific person or location in the first place. Life is infinite in its randomness and to connect with a specific person is rare beyond a scale we could ever understand. Applied to our current friendships and relationships, this gives them a heightened meaning and incredulous worth.

Two paths equal in their chaos managed to cross. What will you do with those moments to give them the magnitude they deserve? And when the universe unravels further, can you let go once again? To understand yourself as a small part of a greater whole is to let go more easily but also to connect with deeper meaning knowing how special and unlikely each interaction is.

To meditate on the vastness of the universe, it’s amazing to think that amongst all of the places life could take us, we somehow ended up exactly where we are. On a large scale, we could've been born into a different time or in a completely different part of the world. On a smaller scale, we could’ve attended different high schools or chosen different hobbies. Smaller still, the randomness of the everyday human experience seems to shake us up from hour to hour, detouring us, for example, from one coffee shop to another because the first was unexpectedly closed.

On large scales and small, each moment was brought into being as the result of an incomprehensibly long series of events and occurrences that led up to us being in the exact places we are now. Basking in the glory of this omnipotent chain of events, we can see in a new light how astonishing it is to ever have crossed paths with another person on an equally complex journey in the first place.

Of all the places we could’ve been and all the times we could’ve been there, we both find ourselves in the here and now and that sets the foundation for appreciating each moment we share with another, because inherent to this belief is the understanding that two such paths will separate again.

In such a moment, it is our duty (for both ourselves and the other) to let go and embrace the bittersweetness of departure knowing that the idea of “gone” is a false notion — a product of linear thinking. Just like if I were to remind you of the emotional relief that accompanies a mother’s hug and the way that such a feeling stays with you, so can all the other experiences of life. They live on in the way they impact you and affect your perception of the world: Certain friendships, relationships, and phases shape the lens through which you see the world, and in that way, such experiences occur infinitely through the course of your life.

Moments in life do not come and then taunt you from the past; they come, ingrain themselves in your being, and integrate into your essence. From that time on, you carry them with you as you continue on. In this way, there doesn’t need to be departures as we currently know them and it makes me think that a life full of goodbyes might be a life well-lived.

Rachel D. Levy ’22 is an Environmental Science and Public Policy concentrator in Pforzheimer House. Her column “The Experiment of Life” appears on alternate Mondays.


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