My oldest son, Calum, and his songwriting partner, Eli, recently wrote a love song entitled The Highs of Hellos. It is a love song of sheer genius on more than one level (but, of course, as a shameless stage Dad, what would you expect me to say?). The opening lyrics paint a black-and-white Casablanca type scenario of longing for love but also of its elusive quality:
“She says hello, monotone,
staring over the glass of a cocktail an hour old.
She says there’s no need to explain,
But then a restroom break turned into a departing plane.
And that bar piano man, he started playing…”
My point is not to depress everyone with sad love songs. What I will say is that, when facing the unspeakable ache of leaving with beloved faces in the rear-view mirror, songs with uncertain endings often make for good travel companions. Elton John once wrote that sad songs say so much. For one who is sad, a truer statement cannot be found. But sadness isn’t always what songs and poetry say it is. There is a good, almost welcome sadness in the wake of friendships, forever sealed but never forgotten, that must endure parting.
Sadness gets a bad wrap in a culture hooked on the elusion of a happiness bought and sold. It has come under hard times since our hope for anything but pushes us to cloak it with…well, anything we can find. It is seen as the hooded marauder, seeking whom it may destroy rather than a potential friend if we could just sit with it long enough to say hello and get acquainted. The sadness of which I speak isn’t the dire hopelessness of unrequited love. Instead it is the bittersweet angst of a love, of necessity, left behind – at least physically.
The last time I wrote of this was upon my return from this year’s grad school January Residency. At that time I admitted to a certain lost-ness birthed of the realization that it was the last of three such residencies and potentially the penultimate meeting of our beloved “Conspirators.” This weekend marked the end of a three-year foray into the wilderness, both mysterious and hopeful, of a Master of Arts degree in Spiritual Formation and Leadership, now complete. As I’ve shared previously, these 18 other dear souls know far more about me than is either comfortable or reasonable given the rather edgy and dangerous personal territory into which we have frequently traveled.
This is the result of all our seeking. It is both reason and end of our doctrine. It is the direction our lives must take if the painstaking journey of vulnerability wed to authentic community life is to yield her ripest fruit of hope. Recognizing that most of the people I know and work with have perhaps never experienced community and awareness of the mutuality of love as I have enjoyed these brief three years creates a fire within me to be a catalyst for it in the community to which I now return.
That and that alone is what turns the “highs of hellos” into the possibilities of learning to unleash goodbyes…
“Where did you go, my darling?
Where did you go, my old friend?
What she did not know,
Is that shot boy with his hands in his pockets,
You were all he ever wanted – somebody to hold,
Life’s just a series of goodbyes with the highs of hellos.”