A simple, true story about the importance of marking the passages of time with excellence
In our highly mobile world today, goodbyes are a regular part of most of our experiences. Making sure we do them well is an art and an opportunity.
I got to know Farida from Pakistan late in her time living in my city. Our first, more recent, encounter was in the early fall just before her December departure date. She came to one of our International Wives Connection (IWC) events.
I went up to her to introduce myself to her and a couple other ladies.
“Oh, but we have met before,” Farida offered when I leaned in to give her a standard hug and kiss of greeting.
She looked familiar. I wasn’t sure when, but then she reminded me.
“Remember the IWC in January, when the focus country was Pakistan?”
Of course I did! Turns out, she was one of the women hanging behind in the ranks. A few other Pakistani ladies – Maheen, Sadia and Zarah – took the lead. They had been regular attendees at our meetings and had demonstrated some real leadership qualities.
“I was there,” she exclaimed.
Why, yes. I do remember her face. She was one of several women who held back, a bit more in the shadows of the more outgoing ones, offering support, staying in their group.
“Yes, of course I remember you,” I responded. Her face did look familiar, but there were quite a few new faces that day. Unfortunately, I didn’t get beyond mere niceties that day. And I did follow up via messages and emails, but they had remained silent.
Today, Farida explained.
“I just wasn’t confident in my English. Too embarrassed to speak, you know. Zarah kept telling me to come. But I could not. It was scary for me.”
“Oh, I’m sorry I made you scared,” I exclaimed, with a wink.
“But Zarah was right. I should have joined your group much earlier. So now, I want to meet with you as much as I can before I return back to Pakistan in December.
I went on to tell her about a plan we had to do some small-group English conversation times during the fall. Perhaps she’d be interested in that?
“For sure I want to meet up with you! In fact, you can use my home.”
Wow, I hadn’t expected that. We were actually finding it difficult to settle on a place, so the offer was a good one. Farida lived in an area where many international wives lived. This would be perfect!
Over the next couple months, we met alternately at Farida’s home and at the home of another Pakistani woman, Laila. The times were filled with laughter, joy, babies and other little ones, and fragrant Pakistani food!
“Of course, you cannot come to our home without us making some food. That would be unheard of,” Laila once proclaimed. So, I learned to keep my stomach empty every time I would head towards one of their two homes.
Fast forward to the middle of December.
I knew Farida would soon be leaving. I reached out to her shortly before her departure.
She was immediately apologetic. The few weeks leading up to that time had been so filled, we hadn’t seen one another.
Naturally, I understood. Time seems to speed up when entering a time of transition.
“No worries! But I would love to come by and say goodbye,” I wrote in a message.
I made it just in time to visit her and Hania, another Pakistani woman in the group who would be taking off soon. Literally, they would be leaving our area within five hours!
I looked Farida squarely in the eyes.
“It’s important for me to come say ‘goodbye,’ even if it’s only ten minutes. We do not know when we will see one another again. We can stay in touch through Facebook and, as a fallback, email. But this ‘goodbye’ thing, I am so sad when I miss saying ‘goodbye’ properly. I feel as if something is missing.”
“Yes,” she responded. “I now see what you mean. I cannot tell you how much I regret not following Zarah’s advice earlier. I wish I had gotten to know you at the beginning of my stay in this city. Not only would my English be better, but I would have shared more time with you.”
“Well, we cannot change what’s already happened,” I responded. “But we can be grateful for what we’ve shared. I’m confident our paths crossed for a reason. And we can make a point to stay in touch from now. So let’s not forget one another!”
This is why making a point to say ‘goodbye’ well is important. We pave a path to something rich and new and important. This people-to-people diplomacy is what makes a difference.
Because so many of our politicians, systems and institutions are failing us, we need to make sure we nurture genuine bonds of friendships across traditional divides. Culture and religion (both operative in this case) are among them.
That day in those 20 minutes of saying ‘goodbye,’ something magical happened. Not only with Farida but with her husband and one of her children as well. They were touched I made the effort to visit.
And I was touched by them as well. For, when we extend ourselves, we grow. And that is what makes our world a better place – person by person, moment by moment. It all adds up.
Have you had a similar experience, making sure to mark the passage of a season with a friend like this? It may have taken effort, but you realize in the end – it was worth it, right?