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Don’t let the goodbyes escape you

Katherine Barrett | Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The end of the semester and of the 2012-13 academic year is upon us. Will you be graduating? Studying abroad? Or maybe you are planning to return next fall filled with hope for a fresh start to a new year. Whatever your circumstances, it would be easy enough just to stumble out of here with your suitcases, exhausted and stressed out from finals. It would be easy to leave your post-packed-for-summer-storage empty, to leave your dingy room or apartment and the roommates who used to be your best friends – and are now driving you crazy – in the rear-view mirror.
Don’t do it. Give your best effort towards summoning up the energy to say what you need to say. Tell someone you love them. Thank your friends for their kindness. Offer forgiveness, or ask for it. Senior week and commencement offer graduates lots of chances to say “good-bye,” “thank you” and “I’m sorry,” but we all still have to make sure such exchanges happen. And as we’ve certainly learned this week, there’s no point in waiting until some “appropriate” future time to seek peace, express gratitude or offer love.
As we learned on Monday, moments that change our lives forever can occur in the blink of an eye and have no respect for the plans, efforts, celebrations or accomplishments we happen to be focused on at the time. And while we all tend to ask ourselves, “Where is God in the midst of all this pain?” we find the answers to that very question in the way emergency personnel, strangers at the scene and people hundreds of miles away have responded. God is present in the way all who reach out to family, friends and to those who mourn offer love to another. 
In the face of terrible tragedy or horrific acts of violence, we quite naturally reach out to one another, even without reminders to hug someone you love today. We know how hearing news of a serious illness or unexpected death jars us out of complacency and moves us to express more clearly our love, gratitude or remorse. But why not make sure ordinary days, busy days or plain old inertia don’t become the cause of missing the opportunities the big events provide?
Time is precious as the last 10 days of the semester approach. Finals, packing, storage, travel and work all contribute to making this one of the less-appealing times of the academic year. But if you have even just a few minutes, think about people you need to call, email, speak to or text. If you have even just a few more minutes, take a look at some of the letters of Paul in the New Testament. At the time of his writing, many people, including Paul, thought Jesus’ return and the end of the world were imminent.  Paul’s letters reflect a concern to help believers figure out how to live when time could be short – when the “day of the Lord” could come “like a thief in the night (1 Thes. 5:2).”  In that same letter, he offers a plea to the Thessalonians that might help us, no matter how challenging it seems at this time of year: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (5:16-18).
In a few weeks, most of you will leave and some of you will stay, hopefully under very blessed and peaceful circumstances. Make a good ending to this year. I say “make,” not “have,” because happy endings – differences resolved, love expressed, forgiveness received and gratitude articulated – must be intentional, especially when you have three finals, two papers, a lab, a room to pack up and a summer job to find. It’s not just going to happen on its own, especially at this time of year. As Paul would say, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful” (Col. 3:15). If you are sorry, concerned, thankful or if you love someone, then say so.
Katherine Barrett is the assistant director of Undergraduate Ministry in the Office of Campus Ministry at Notre Dame. She can be reached at
kbarrett@nd.edu   
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.