June 24, 2011

Left Behind.

Goodbyes Are Always Messy. But None Are Worse Than When I’m Being Left Behind.

I’ve never been good at saying goodbye. My weakness is not subtle. It’s ridiculous. I cry like a baby. Every. Single. Time. I cry when I leave our annual “family week” in New Hampshire – even if I have plans to see my brother or sister in a few weeks. I tear up at the end of the school year when I say thank you to my children’s teachers. I can’t even imagine what I’m going to be like when we drop our son off for his Outward Bound trip in a few days. When I was a kid, I would fall apart every year when we took down the Christmas tree. In fact, I think it was during one of these holiday meltdowns that my family jokingly decided that I’d inherited the “Aunt Jane” gene. (Aunt Jane is my father’s sister. Her sobbing farewells make me look downright composed when saying goodbye.)

Maybe it is genetic. I certainly haven’t grown out of teary partings. The ruckus my tears cause is entirely out of character. I strongly dislike scenes. I am pretty uncomfortable being the center of attention. Despite this, earlier this week I managed to fall apart in public when saying goodbye to a close friend who is moving away. Lovely.

While I have not learned to squelch my farewell tears, over the years I have discovered that there are times I am a little better at saying goodbye. Leaving is easier for me than being left. This could be from years of practice. After all, compared to most, I have moved a lot – twice in high school and five times in the first seven years of my marriage. In my experience, when you move, your sadness about leaving your home, your community, your “turf” is tempered by excitement about all that lies ahead. Moving is an opportunity to expand your experiences, to explore your world, and even to recreate yourself.

Being left behind is decidedly less exciting. Life goes on, but with a gaping hole. While everything seems the same, nothing is. Somehow, the simple act of a friend’s leaving casts a sharp light on the fingerprints he or she has left all over your life. The local sandwich shop becomes the place you used to have lunch together. The pew toward the front of church is where she used to sit. The brownies you made every time your families got together don’t seem half as delicious anymore.

And that’s just the places and the stuff. While it hurts to show up at places where you used to bump into your friend, the first time you have news to share or need a shoulder, your friend’s absence cuts like a knife. While it’s good to stay in touch, talking to your friend can be painful. Hearing all about her adventures, new job, new friends, new home, hammers home the fact that she’s not coming back. She’s moving forward into her new experiences and her new life. While you’re still here in the same place, doing the same things, missing her. It could be tempting to throw yourself a little pity party after you hang up the phone.

This is where yoga can help. It’s not only your friend who is off on a new adventure. Though her new experiences, opportunities to explore and chances to discover new aspects of herself are clearer to see, you are faced with no fewer of the same opportunities. Yoga teaches us to find adventures and lessons in the familiar. It is possible to step on your mat every single day and have a different experience of your body and yoga postures you know inside and out. You can have a sudden epiphany about your hamstrings in a simple forward bend you’ve practiced for years. You can arrive at a deeper understanding of how you handle challenges when faced with a tough balancing posture.

Yoga teaches us to stay curious, to keep exploring, to push our boundaries, to drop assumptions we have about ourselves and — maybe — even to reinvent ourselves a little bit. For those of you who have never moved, this is mighty similar to the open-minded, excited perspective that helps temper the sadness when you’re leaving a home behind. Here’s the kicker. Yoga teaches us to adopt this frame of mind even when we’re standing on the same 2’ x 6’ rubber rectangle we’ve been standing on for years. Perhaps the pity party isn’t necessary after all. Perhaps, just perhaps, even though you’ve been left behind, you’re moving forward into new experiences as well.

I’m not delusional enough to think that I’m ever going to outgrow my “Aunt Jane” gene. Besides, my tear-stained goodbyes are part of “who I am” at this point. But as I send my friend off into the next chapter of her life, perhaps I can manage to shift into a yoga-frame-of-mind in my own life right here at home. It won’t make me miss her any less. But it will provide great fodder for conversation when we next talk.

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