“The return makes one love the farewell.”

— Alfred De Musset

A few weeks ago, my son and his family came to spend the day with us.  We had a family meal together, chatted endlessly, and best of all had a chance to play with the grandchildren.  We love being the ones who are visited, and it always brings back memories of trips to Grandma and Grandpa’s house with our own children when they were the little ones.  A bit of deja vu occurred at the end of this particular visit.  As the kids were packing up to leave at the end of the day, five-year-0ld Cheyenne began to cry.  She wasn’t hurt or in any sort of trouble, she wasn’t even particularly tired.  She simply didn’t want the good time to end.  I found myself telling her, as I had told her father before her, “don’t cry because you have to leave, be happy that you can come back another time.”

I knew my words wouldn’t make much difference for a little girl who still had things in mind to explore at Grandma’s house, but still I spoke them.  After all, it is important to learn these things.  What would our lives be like if we only felt the love of family and dear friends when they were in our presence?  It is important for us to learn to love the farewell as well as the greeting upon their arrival.

I think back to my own childhood and a visit to Florida.  Not only did I get to spend time with my own grandparents and learn about their home and their lives, but I got to spend time with my only cousin and her family.  I remember a moment when a family friend of theirs who had been visiting at the same time had to go on his way.  Out of nowhere, I was overtaken by a strong surge of emotion.  I was the child who could not contain my tears.  I had no particular attachment to the man, but his departure that day represented all the goodbyes I knew were coming in a very short time.  When we are children, those goodbyes seem so permanent that they hit us like a ton of bricks.

Object permanence — that’s what we learned about the way our children perceive the world when they are very little.  If we walk around the corner, we no longer exist.  When we return to the room, it is as though we magically re-materialized out of nowhere.  Peek-a-boo teaches the babies that things can be out of sight and still exist.  They learn that out of sight does not have to mean out of mind.

As the holiday season approaches and loved ones re-materialize from around every corner, we are reminded of the cosmic game of peek-a-boo that we play in our mobile society.  Soon, all seven of my grandchildren will appear at once and inhabit the corners of my life.  They will laugh and explore, and I will make note of how much they have grown and changed since our last encounter.  When the time comes to say goodbye, we will probably endure a tear or two, but they will not be mine.  I have learned to love the farewell, even though it will mean some distance and time before we meet again.  In the end, it is the love we hold onto and the love that we recognize when people come around the corner and exclaim, “peek-a-boo!”  No matter how many times we say goodbye, it is the love that greets us when we return to those we hold dear.  I will love the farewell; but for a week or so I will embrace the hello.