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A farewell to farewells

| Tuesday, September 3, 2019


I guarantee you that you felt the word more than you read it, and that is because there are certain words that hold this power. One word can have the power to instill an infinity of scenarios and emotions in the minds of those who see it. In one life, goodbye will be the word to describe a thousand moments. Goodbye will be the word you say to your childhood friend when they move away. It will be the word of your parents as they drive back to the airport. Goodbyes will be sad, they will be happy. Sometimes they will occur as if they were in a Hollywood script, with ice cold rain and a melancholic sun that couldn’t get out of bed for you that day. You will say goodbye on days where the heat is scorching and you wish you could wrest some joy away from the entire experience by seeking familiarity in the rainy Hollywood script. Goodbyes are eternal and familiar to us all, and, as a consequence, they will occur in every way they possibly can. And yet, goodbyes are terrifying.

Part of our fear of farewells is the inherent finality of them. Are lives meant to brush past each other with the frustrating alacrity of the colors at dawn? If I blink, will the person at my side disappear, the only goodbye a waft of their perfume and the void of space beside me? The emptiness of no words. But a goodbye regardless. 

Although I have only just begun my third year at Notre Dame, I am already looking ahead to the horizon of my own goodbyes. My older sister graduated from Notre Dame last year, and I seem to be surrounded by the theme of farewells lately. Even this past summer, goodbyes seemed to be a prominent theme in the music I listened to. Post Malone released a song entitled “Goodbyes” and Benny Blanco released a song a couple of days ago about the challenges of moving on and starting new phases of life. Songs and stories about goodbyes may have seemed to be more relevant this past summer, but the theme of goodbyes is certainly one that has not been significant only recently. Farewells are an inherent part of what it means to be human. Tom Stoppard once wrote in the play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” human beings are born with an inherent sense of our own ending. “For all of the points of the compass, there is only one direction,” he states. “And time is its only measure.” Goodbye is a portent of our ending, and I think this fact is at the root of why it scares us so much.

So what are we to do when we are inevitably confronted by a goodbye? For one, we can embrace the inevitable sadness of the experience. Melancholy is the often unspoken thread that ties all of humanity together during our sojourn. Goodbye is on the other side of this coin, and we are a flip away from another change or upheaval simply because that is what it means to be human. I think that melancholic experiences are some of the strongest in terms of character building because they rattle our foundation and force us to strengthen ourselves. This is certainly not an endorsement to look to every situation or experience in your life as having a moral. Instead, refuse to look at goodbyes as an ending. Do not look at them as an epilogue. Goodbye is the ultimate prologue; it is the exit sign with a flight of stairs and endless possibility on the other side. 

There is the illusion that we are leaving a tiny piece of ourselves behind when we say farewell. It’s the idea that if I say goodbye too many times, there will be nothing of me left except tattered and separate pieces belonging to all the friends and people I have left behind. The musician Phil Collins once released a song called “We Said Hello Goodbye,” and the lyrics of that song provide timeless advice for addressing this illusion and navigating goodbyes: “Turn your head / And don’t look back / Set your sails for a new horizon / Don’t turn around, don’t look down / Oh, there’s life across the tracks / And you know it’s really not surprising / It gets better when you get there, oh.”

Of course, there will always be an underlying sense of melancholy with a goodbye. Goodbye is frightening because it is a gateway to the future. Human beings, particularly those in affluent Western society, are not fond of radical change. Goodbye is the ultimate challenge to such a mindset. And yet, farewell is a bridge and the nature of that bridge and the rivers and ravines that it spans will be different in every instance.

Ultimately, goodbye is a challenge for us to fill our sails and enter the black storms on the horizon, with a joy of beginnings and uncharted territory waiting and beckoning. Goodbye is a shift in perspective, it’s a new voyage. As we start another year of school, whether we are seniors and our goodbye to Notre Dame is shortly ahead or we are just beginning as first years, let us think on endings and relish the choppiness of the waters ahead. Let us say farewell to farewells once and for all. Unfurl your topsails, loosen the rigging and sail into the impossibility of possibility. There are storms to conquer and oceans to cross.


Gabriel Niforatos is a junior majoring in political science with a minor in the Hesburgh Program in public service. He is passionate about giving a voice to the disenfranchised and writing is the muse he is persistently chasing. He can be found at [email protected] or @g_niforatos on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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