The Ways We Say Goodbye

by sneha joseph, photo credits.

Inspired by Koty Neelis’s, “The ways we say goodbye” from the Thought Catalogue.

My dream of many years to visit Japan manifested recently in an exchange trip to Osaka although the term ‘exchange program’ seems to do no justice to the zephyr-like memories still heavily etched into my heart. If I were to describe the entire trip in a single phrase, I think

“A soothing melody of wishing stars, a heavy pendulum of withering seconds.”

would do a pretty good job of summarizing the entire experience. The trip was sufficiently long enough for us to experience the “honey-moon” period, as put across by an English teacher over at Ritsumeikan, but at the same time it was short enough from the start to internalize a ticking time-bomb – “5 days left to Goodbye – 4, 3, 2, 1 –”

Living in the present has never been my strongest suit, and over time, I’ve developed an aversion to goodbyes. So even from the first day I felt absolutely petrified at the thought of leaving everything behind. I tried to enjoy myself, and took comfort in the advice of my closest friends – “Don’t think about it! Make the best out of it!” and tried my best to enjoy everything. It was only on the last day I let myself feel the brunt of it, and cried my heart out when my buddy embraced me and started tearing as well. A lot of the goodbyes were promised to be temporary, with prospects of meeting up after graduation or the inbound trip being thrown into the air.

It was then I realized, no amount of preparation, no amount of willpower or repeated mantras of

“I will not become a water fountain I will not become a water fountain I will not become a water fountain” prepares you for the actual moment – and after being cramped for nearly 8 hours on a return flight back to Singapore I realized most goodbyes we face in life aren’t made out to be as positive and memorable as the hellos.

“Oh how bittersweet it is to think about the life you live now and to realize it’s impermanence.” declares Neelis, in the opening paragraph of her article.

Goodbyes and hellos do share their similarities –subtle and unexpected, but capable of turning your life topsy-turvy without so much as a warning; sometimes you’re just too deaf to notice the lingering whispers.

The first type of goodbyes would be the “planned goodbyes.” Planned mutually for occasions like migration and graduation, both parties at hand tend to overthink, estimate and rehearse everything – all the final words and thoughts crafted with such alacrity so you can only remember the good memories at hand. You part, wondering when your paths might yet cross again, and remember the good and bad times with nostalgia.

The second class of goodbyes still falls under the umbrella term of “planned”. The difference lies in the beholder of the decision – this isn’t so much mutual as it is one-sided. These goodbyes begin in a text or phone call gone unanswered just a bit longer than usual. These goodbyes start as you lay upon dreamless pillows, waking up to the first few rays of dawn, and nothing feels quite the same as before. It hits you there, deep in the stomach, in the shallow waves of your nerves. Something’s different, but what? They begin in a tone of voice that surprises you – you find yourself picking at the slightest of details – the intonation of their syllables, their mannerisms and gestures. These goodbyes are the hesitation before their lips part, the way you sit across the table with bowls of untouched food, wondering if you’ll ever share another moment like this. They are the longing for the past, and the misguided hope that you will return to normality soon enough. These goodbyes happen when they look at you with no trace of emotion as their lips mouth, “let’s end this.”


Truth be told, human beings have a habit of saying goodbye in ways that can haunt us for years; yet other times we abandon situations so carelessly, it’s as if we’re merely erasing a haphazardly scrawled paragraph in our book while ripping apart whole arcs of theirs. I wish I could have held every person’s hand as I had to leave and tell them how much they impacted me. These are just some of the thoughts that cavorted about my mind as I left Japan, or when I am walking away from an afternoon of coffee and conversation with a close friend. We don’t often get a say whose souls we choose to collide ours with, the people who make us feel at home with a simple curve of their lips, or the the ones who bruise our hearts. And while we can’t choose who enters and exits our lives, I only wish for the goodbyes to be just as memorable as the hellos.

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