Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hugging a Tiger: Saying Goodbye Well

Toward the end of Yan Martel's, Life of Pi, the main character Pi, who has just survived over 200 days on a lifeboat, feels his boat wash up on a sandy shore. As it does he watches his boat companion (a tiger he named Richard Parker) jump from the boat and run into the jungle. He reflects:

“I wept like a child. It was not because I was over come at having survived my ordeal, though I was alive. Nor was it the presence of my brothers and sisters [other humans], though that was very moving. I was weeping because Richard Parker had left me so unceremoniously. What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell. I am a person who believes in form, in the harmony of order. Where we can, we must give things a meaningful shape…

…I’ll tell you, that’s one thing I hate about my nickname [Pi], the way that the numbers run on forever. It’s important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse. That bungled goodbye hurts me to this day. I wish so much that I’d had one last look at him in the lifeboat, that I’d provoked him a little, so that I was on his mind. I wish I had said to him then- yes, I know, to a tiger, but still -I wish I had said, “Richard Parker, it’s over. We have survived. Can you believe it? I owe you more gratitude than I can express. I couldn’t have done it without you. I would like to say it formally: Richard Parker, thank you. Thank you for saving my life. And now go where you must.”

Many college students this time of year are looking toward finishing final exams and engaging life’s next season (a summer job, sophomore year, a new place to live, etc.). For many, this transition means that friendships will change. Leaving high school is the first time many students realize that friendships don’t always last forever. As Pi notes, proper goodbyes are important. College can be an ideal place for student to learn to say good bye and end well.

Here are five ideas for doing just that:

1. Plan. Planning ahead will help you find time to say goodbye to people on your list (a professor, your RD, friends, your RA, the sandwich man, etc.)

2. Write a letter. Letter writing still holds a certain charm and allows one to be intentional with words. Also, people save letters.

3. Pack Early. This gives you time to savor the last moments before you move out or your parents pick you up. The rushed life (and goodbye) rarely work well.

4. Host a goodbye coffee, meal, 80’s party, or “insert favorite event here” with your friend or group of friends. Do what you love for a last time.

5. Mark the friendship with a photo, gift, or favorite memory. It may feel tacky but you will like the choice later.

Most of all, just try to say goodbye as authentically as possible. That in itself is an outrageous idea. It may not go perfectly but learning to say goodbye is something you will have to do again. College is the ideal place to learn to do it well. And…it has to be easier than saying goodbye to a tiger. Hugs anyone?

--Kyle Heys

Kyle Heys is a R
esident Director at Calvin College and regular contributor to the blog Live and Learn.

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