I spent my most recent final day in America calmly waiting for the feeling to come. It hit me, with its usual flair for inconvenient timing, just as I pushed my backpack onto the TSA belt and watched the lips of the X-ray chamber close around it. The feeling rose from somewhere inside and tightened through the roof of my mouth. A thin tear fell over the edge of each eyelid. I noticed the TSA officer staring at me.
“Please take off your sweatshirt,” he said, repeating himself for the last of who knows how many tries.
I realized then that surprisingly, I could find words for the feeling. They were simple.
I am so tired of saying good-bye.
Minutes earlier, I’d been holding a dear friend and saying, “Good-bye, I’ll see you….” and then I’d trailed off, slowly working out that I had no way to finish that sentence. I thought of my grandparents, and wondered how much more tired of saying good-bye they must be, with even more mystery weighing down their trailing sentences.
When I was younger, airports filled my lungs with fluttering wings. Their halls were the birthplaces of flight, and their personnel the midwives of adventure. But that night I was remembering so many airport trips, so many teary farewells. And I felt the unspoken word of those grey and white lined walls whisper to me not “adventure”, but a passionless “good-bye”.
I sat, 2 hours early for my flight, and prayed for my friends and family, picturing their faces one by one and letting the tears fall. I turned to the Psalms and found myself lost in Psalm 4:7 “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Who were these people, with their copious amounts of grain and wine — and yet whose gladness could not come close to the Psalmist’s? I found them in verse 6, crying out “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, oh Lord!” They were on their knees, like me, like the Psalmist himself in verse 1, begging for God to bless them.
I thought through each of my last embraces with all the friends and family I already missed so much. A line from Song of Songs pulsed into my mind. “For your love is better than wine.”
I wish I could say that the only wine and grain I longed for was the company of all my beloveds here on earth, but I am not nearly so noble as all of that. I also pined for grain — for amber waves of it, no less. I couldn’t stand to leave all the temporal realities of America which had given me so much joy over the past two months: the openness and space that exists even in cities, the freshness of the air, the widespread availability of ovens, the hipster coffee shops, the second-hand bookstores with books in English, the incredible loving community that is my church in California, the mountains and rivers of Western Montana.
I boarded the plane and began to wonder how a 14 hour flight could ever prepare me to say good-bye to all of this. But then suddenly I saw that Psalm 4 was gently offering me a choice. I could keep begging for things, from the obviously transient ones like tea with milk and honey, to the still ultimately short-lived others like the company of the people who love me. Or I could accept gladness.
But what, I asked, is this gladness? And how, I wondered, can I get it? The chorus of Psalms 42 and 43 presented itself.
“Why are you cast down O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him,
my salvation and my God.”
The gladness is nothing more or less than salvation. And the minute salvation stops being gladness, I know that I have either drifted away from believing in it or I have forgotten what it is.
The writer of Psalm 4 was not happy. The writer of Psalms 42 and 43 was in utter despair. The answer to both was not a warm and fuzzy feeling, but the reminder of the objective fact of salvation along with an invitation to meditate on every detail of what salvation means.
Like the writer of Psalm 4, I meditated on what was done for my salvation, on why it was done, on how it has freed me to truly live my life, and on how it has also freed me to die at any moment without regret or fear.
The plane surges forward and then up and I marvel at the lovely patterns of streetlights around San Francisco’s highest hills. Two more tears slither deceptively down my cheeks and I can’t help singing under the roar of the engine a few lyrics.
“No guilt in life, no fear in death,
this is the power of Christ in me.
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.”
Anyone else tired of the good-byes? What runs through your mind during teary take offs?