Saying Goodbye

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gives value to survival.”  C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

IMG_20160817_142042We’ve lived in Durham, North Carolina now for 23 years. I find this hard to believe; I find it difficult to believe that I’m old enough to have lived anywhere as an adult for anything like 23 years, but there it is.

I love living in Durham for many reasons. Here are some. But this post isn’t about the Bull City, as much as I love it. It’s about one of Durham’s upsides and just now, one of its downsides. It’s about friends and saying goodbye.

With universities in each of the towns (Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh) that make up this region called The Triangle, our population swells during the academic year. We are an incubator of sorts: students come for undergrad and graduate work; we connect with some and love them; and then, so often, they leave.

Nick and Jenny were different. They met as undergrads at Duke, and when they married after college, they settled here. She is a native Durhamite with family nearby, and Nick’s family isn’t so far away. I had known Jenny peripherally for a while through mutual friends; we met Nick when we ran into them at a Duke football game once. I enjoyed their wedding photos on Facebook.

Then came that Sunday morning when, new bride and freshly minted graduate, she approached me after church. She told me that they had decided to attend our church, which meant that our lives might now overlap in regular ways. There was nothing for it but to become friends. Which we so gladly did.

But Durham is an incubator. Sometimes people move here from Pittsburgh to attend grad school at Duke and are still here 23 years later. And sometimes people move here to start a life and then realize, five years in, that they have to go, that life and work are beckoning elsewhere, that obedience to God can be making a life outside of San Francisco. And that’s when you realize that five years is not enough time.

***

At times like these, I’m grateful for how memories surface. The incidents, conversations and episodes that, once the stuff of everyday, newly assert themselves.

Nick running the Disney Marathon (fast) without even beginning to think of training for it.

Jenny taking a thirteen-year-old Emma Christmas shopping, just because she wanted to spend time with my daughter.

Nick diving headlong into a lake and then horrifying me with the photos of his split forehead on Facebook.

Lunches and long walks with Jenny, talking about work and family and rearing children and whether there is a right way for any of it.

Emma and I, post soccer game on a Saturday morning, sidelined on a busy road with a flat tire. We couldn’t change it ourselves and Bill and the boys were unavailable–but there was Nick, in moments, it seemed. And in moments we were on our way again.

Their first wedding anniversary was our 23rd. We perched on tall chairs in the window seat of one of Durham’s finest restaurants and talked, among other things, about how difficult it can be to be married.

Dinner at their house. Dinner at ours. They introduced us to Settlers of Catan. We introduced them to Julia Child’s braised lamb. We stopped to see them unannounced; they stopped to see us, too. Once we had a difficult conversation involving some tears and some confessions of sorts. I love friendships that can go to the bone.

I love how Nick can’t be made to care whether his shorts are the “right” length, but will commit himself to loving and enjoying a group of middle school boys throughout the most trying three years of their lives.

And how he has loved my sons: by mentoring Everett, by helping Will find and buy (and make some repairs to) his car.

I love how Jenny thinks about things, how she turned her magnificent gifts of intelligence and compassion to serving refugees in Durham and to the women of our church. And how she entrusted herself to me in some difficult times–like that day when she was feeling awful. We sat under an umbrella at the pool and tried not to think about how overdue she was, and then, mercifully, baby Stone arrived the very next day.

And how, when Amazon decided without notice or fanfare to release my novel a full month early, they brought me an orchid to celebrate.

So many memories, and this one, from late June:

After dinner, Emma and Jenny and I in rocking chairs on their porch. Baby Ford is sleeping in his seat next to us, and Stone is playing: first on the porch with us and then out on the lawn, where Bill and Nick and Will are playing with Stone’s basketball hoop. The hoop is a tiny thing, its rim only a few feet off the ground, and the guys are playing horse, inventing new and near-impossible ways to get the ball into the hoop. It’s growing dark and the crickets are singing, summer is still ahead of us, and we are all talking and laughing, unaware of our sweet assumption: that life will carry on very nearly like this well into the foreseeable future.

***

Nick left a week and a half ago, driving his family’s belongings across the country. Today Jenny and the little boys leave, with assurances that they’ll all be back in town at Thanksgiving.

Last night, Jenny hosted a handful of us for a last visit, and I learned of another value we share: neither of us likes to say goodbye.

In truth, I’m not completely sure why Jenny doesn’t like it. And I respect that, despite her distaste, she addresses it anyway. Jenny is one to see the value in things, even things she doesn’t prefer.

And she’s right, of course. They are right: It’s good to say a proper farewell, good to acknowledge the official change. Maybe saying goodbye better makes space for navigating the changes that lie ahead. I don’t know.

But I know why I don’t like to say goodbye. I don’t like the pressure it puts on things, the heavy weight of the sadness. It’s all I can do, when finally saying goodbye, to not hold on too tight and to not say exactly what I’m feeling: Don’t go. Please don’t go. Just don’t.

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