Saying good-bye seems less dramatic than it once did. A quick hug, thanks for everything, see you soon, seems sufficient in the modern age. No great teary farewells, no clinging at the train station or at the foot of a boat ramp. Even airport scenes are less effusive than they were a few years ago.
We are living longer, perhaps, and so our expectations of seeing each other again are greater. We know that everyone is just a plane ride a way, a few hours, a day at the most. If something happens – that niggle in the back of our head – we can be there for one last farewell.
In any case, we have Skype and Facebook and e-mail and texting and all those things that let us keep in touch. Everything except actual touch. We have all these tools to let us transmit words or even pictures. With Youtube we can even send each other movies. But there is no way to send a last caress, a final embrace. We cannot feel the texture of our loved one’s hair, cannot experience the scent of their skin. Even voices are not the same when digitized and transmitted a thousand miles.
We think, nonetheless, that this semblance of togetherness is enough. That it will sustain us. And it does because it must. We need to be sustained in the comfort of knowing that nothing is forever, no good-bye has to be the last. I suspect it is one of the factors that sustains religion; the selfish (or even selfless) urge to never be parted finally from those we love.
But reality is so much different. A life can end in a moment and sometimes you don’t even have the chance to make a symbolic farewell. Seven years ago this week, a friend, George, disappeared from his home. He had been ill, growing worse, dementia was encroaching and, one day, he simply walked into the woods. There was no explanation, no note, he was simply gone. His body wasn’t found for six years. And during all that time, his friends and family wondered; is he truly gone? Our minds knew but our hearts still wondered.
I think of those people who lost friends and family when the Malaysian aircraft disappeared. They will never have the chance to make that last farewell. Pictures and Youtube videos will not sustain them, will not give them what they need to make that last sweet necessary farewell.
So today, when you leave for work or set out on a journey, hold your lover or your children or your closest friend for just a moment longer. Because you never know….
And that’s ten minutes.