As a military kid I grew up hearing about these things called “Hail and Farewells.” I didn’t really know what they were; I didn’t even know it was two separate words. I thought of it more as “hailenfarewell” and was at a complete loss as to what it was.
But as I began to contemplate this upcoming season of expatriate goodbyes, I couldn’t get the phrase out of my mind. So naturally I went to my mom and asked her to tell me everything she remembered about Hail and Farewells. Her answers blew me away with their spiritual applications.
Let’s have a look, shall we?
1. “Hail and Farewells were an integral part of military life. Whether we were stationed at a military installation or a university in the States, or were stationed abroad, we all took part in these monthly events.” Hellos and goodbyes happen at regular intervals, and they touch the entire community. Nobody gets to skip out on the goodbyes (or hellos), and nobody is immune to the transience – either the Leaver or the Stayer.
2. “It always involved food, whether it was at someone’s home and everyone brought food, or at a restaurant and we purchased our meal.” Ok, so we need food. It’s perhaps kind of obvious, but this answer stood out to me. As humans we celebrate—and mourn—with food.
3. “They were usually more dressy events, except those that were barbeques, etc. There was always a gift, usually a memento that represented your unit and also some kind of plaque that commemorated your time there. Oftentimes others would gift you with items that spoke personally to the officer leaving.” Whether we’re leaving or whether we’re staying, we honor our friends with something special. Whether it’s a physical gift representing our relationship or our country of service (for the gift-givers among us), a special event (for the quality-timers among us), or something else, we don’t let them fade away without that special honor.
4. “The commanding officer would do the introductions of new people, and we would find out where they came from and a little about them and their family. Then the farewells were saved for last with the usual good things said about people. Those that worked closest with the departing officer would also have an opportunity to share about them.” We honor the newcomers by trying to find out a little about them. And we honor the Leavers by sharing our cherished memories about them.
5. “Something I always saw in the groups we were in was the total willingness to accept and ‘get behind’ a new commanding officer. Oftentimes the departing commander was beloved and the idea of someone else coming in and taking over could be hard in a way, but your dad and I and others were intentional about welcoming and following new commanders just as we followed the departing one.” This gets to the heart of welcoming new people, whether they’re in leadership over us or not. Being new is hard, and the least we can do is welcome new people even as we say a painful goodbye to beloved friends. Whether we’re the Leaver or the Stayer, no one can replace our friends, but our hearts can expand to love more people.
6. “We were usually notified about 6 months in advance of our new duty station, and something strange and wonderful always happened after we found out where and when. Usually it was met with, ‘Uh, okay,’ but that time in between notification and actually leaving, our minds turned it into something good that we were actually looking forward to, and we were very ready to leave.” If circumstances allow (and I know they don’t always allow), we plan time between the decision to leave and the actual leaving. That time gives us the space to say goodbye well to people and places, to mentally and physically prepare ourselves for the next step, and to physically and mentally prepare our friends and co-workers for our departure. We realize that nothing can completely prepare us for our next stage, but a little time to reflect and say goodbye is helpful.
7. “It was sad to say goodbye, but many times we figured we’d meet up again.” To a certain extent, expatriate life also allows us to meet up again. (And I’m always thankful when that happens!) But even if we never see each other again on earth, as Christians we know we will meet again in Heaven, and (at least for me) that reminder does cheer the aching heart.
This time of year is painful. I will not deny that. April and May are months of many tears for me. I’ve written about these heart-rending goodbyes before. Each year I feel the feelings afresh, and sometimes I fear they will break me. But I do want us, as the Body of Christ, to carry on in a way that honors both our earthly fellowship and our faith in a mysterious God. With that in mind I offer you my Expat Manifesto:
We acknowledge that we will always have Hail and Farewells. We will bid farewell to our people. We will honor them with our tears, with our laughter, with our food, with our stories, with our hugs, and with our time. And we will bid farewell to seasons, whether satisfying or sad. We will welcome new people. We will honor them with our open (though sometimes wounded) hearts and remember that they may one day be our old people. We will remember that in Christ goodbye is never forever, but only for a time. And with Christ as our Anchor, we will embrace each new season, whether dreaded or longed for. We will Hail, and we will Farewell: This is how we carry on.
What traditions do you have for Hailing and Farewelling?
How do you carry on?