In my senior year of high school, my itinerant teacher, Mrs. Sweeney gave me a blank journal and told me to start writing in it. So I did. I wrote poems and collected my favorite quotes and filled up nearly every page in the book. In the back of the journal, I pasted a poem that I cut out from the Chicago Tribune. I found the poem, Comes the Dawn, (written by Veronica A. Shoffstall) in a Dear Abby column:
After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn that love doesn't mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts
And presents aren't promises.
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open,
With the grace of an adult, not the grief of a child.
And you learn to build all your roads on today,
Because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain.
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After a while you learn that even sunshine
Burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate
Your own soul, instead of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers
And you learn that you really can endure...
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth
And you learn and learn and learn.
With every goodbye you learn.
A quick look at Google shows me that the Dear Abby clip had an impact on others as well. At that time, deep into teenage-hood, "every goodbye" referenced the boyfriends that came and went from my life. It was about surviving that fickle dating stage filled with infatuation. Goodbye meant the end of being together and the beginning of finding someone else. Today, in my mid-forties, I look at this poem and it has such a different meaning today. It is about evolving as a woman, a mom, and a daughter-- about discovering the strengths within and overcoming life's challenges. It's about growing comfortable in your own body, about pushing limits, and letting go.
And the goodbyes-- the goodbyes have a whole different meaning after racking up years of goodbyes. The goodbyes are about friendships that take a different direction, the child who is off to camp and farewells to family members that live several states away. With a son off to college in a few weeks, I'll be facing a goodbye that I'm not quite ready for.
And sadly, the poem reflects the hardest goodbye of all: the dear ones who have departed this earth.