Staying Power #116: "Two Stones of Goodbye"
Goodbye can be a celebration
“Two Stones of Goodbye”
In my dream, I’m visiting a dear friend whom I don’t often get to see. Each hour of our time together is precious.
As our reunion is nearing its unwelcome end, we hear a soft knock on the door. Answering, we find Katie, an itty-bitty angel, not even five feet tall. In waking life, I know her as a woman in her late eighties, a mother of twelve, a longtime hospital chaplain, a lover of the arts. Her short-term memory has turned into a sieve, too holey to hold much of anything anymore. But her heart remains a huge earthen bowl, capable of holding the world.
Standing there in my dream, knobbly hands clasped in front of her, Katie doesn’t ask to come inside. She’s on a mission.
“I’ve been sent here by the Powers,” she says, “to recite an ancient poem in celebration of the goodbye”—a reference to my looming departure from my friend.
Katie proceeds to declaim the poem from memory. As she speaks, her wrinkled face is full of light. Like an old-time classical singer, she keeps her hands clasped at her midriff, elbows out at her sides, expanding her petite chest to achieve more resonance and volume. She sounds like herself, only stronger, her bird-like voice expressive and resolute.
Amazingly, despite her memory issues, Katie hasn’t yet stumbled on a single word of the poem.
She isn’t reciting from memory, I realize suddenly. The invisible Powers are laying upon her heart the words she should speak.
The doorway where the three of us stand is a liminal place—a threshold where the unknown reveals something of itself and makes possible a tough but necessary transition. The poem suffuses the air, transforming my sadness. Until now, I’ve never thought of goodbyes as occasions for celebration. I much prefer hellos.
But “the Powers,” through their messenger Katie, are urging me to reconsider. Their invitation to “celebrate the goodbye” is so compelling, it startles me awake in my bed.
The words of the ancient poem don’t survive my waking.
Today, in gratitude to “the Powers,” in honor of Katie, and for the sake of all those dear ones from whom you and I must sometimes take our leave, I offer you this brief new poem in the spirit of that lengthy, olden one whose lines I can’t remember. Perhaps we all carry some version of that ancient poem inside us. It’s simply waiting there to be found, and lived.
TWO STONES So let me leave a small, smooth stone In the place of our goodbye, to say I’ve been here, and belonged a while. And lay in my empty palm another stone, To say you’ve received and blessed me. Our exchange is even, and forever. Where I go now, I carry you with me. Where you remain, I rest. We are Together apart, at home in each other On the keen edge of the world’s blade.