“Well,” Fr. Francis said, “That is a relationship and relationships go through transitions.” Of all of the things I have been mulling over in trying to make sense of a painful friendship, this one made the difference. It was so simple, and apparently truthful because it made my gut ache.
Sometimes we find ourselves in relationships that are ending in ways we never saw coming. Many times it is not in a flash or a fire, but just the work of the sun and the moon. The mere movement of time and little changes in life that get ya. It can be something major like betrayal, something tricky like changing jobs, or something small like getting a puppy and suddenly things are just very different.
At this stage in life I do not live in the kind of relationships which people have vows or firm commitments to me. Despite the depth of affection, we are always on the loose. There is a lot of ongoing transition. There is a lot of grief.
I am not alone. Even married persons can not force their spouses to be faithful. Sometimes death itself comes and cuts our tethers. On top of the normal challenges of life our culture shapes us to see life as a collection of disposable products. If something breaks you throw it away.
We are in relationships and relationships go through transitions.
St Benedict, however, wants me to make a commitment to stability. It is one of the vows of the monks. But I am also 40 years old, and single with no children. I am not a nuclear family. I had hoped by this time in my life I would be living in a monastery, a L’Arche community, or a Catholic Worker house. But I do not. It is not clear to whom I can or should be attached to in order to practice stability.
I may not be able to live it perfectly but it does beg the question about what it would mean to practice stability with a without others who are also bound to stay.
About halfway through my time living at a L’Arche community I decided I would not be staying longterm. I recognized an inevitable end and began to reflect on how I would transition over the next few weeks before I left. One night, two of my friends with disabilities took me to the local pub to spend time with me. They looked sideways at each other, knowingly, and told me they had something to say. “Doug, we know you may not be staying here forever. But we don’t want to you sneak out or drift away. We are different here. We like to work toward a hard goodbye”
Of course. In our world It is often people with disabilities that are easily and readily sent to institutions, or kept in hospitals in which they do not need to be held. It has often been people with disabilities or older people that we can easily treat like disposables. Of course my friends who lived at L’Arche who were always welcoming, always grieving, but still faithfully building a home, of course they had the wisdom of knowing what I should do next: work toward a hard goodbye.
And what is the hellish opposite of a hard goodbye? A easy goodbye? A good riddance even? No, the opposite of a hard goodbye is a forgotten one. From my friendships at L’Arche and in my own life, I have learned the greatest pain is to cross a path and leave no footprint. It is to collide and leave no mark. It is to go undesired, to never have been really welcomed.
I have some grieving of that sort to do right now. It can try to overshadow other things. Like the fact that there is a group of people looking for a home or inviting me into one. I must grieve, but I must welcome, and I must stay present to those of us who have, for now, found each other.
So what do goodbyes have to do with stability? Without any vows in my life I remain always somewhat on the loose. But I can practice staying, in the way someone stays with a sick friend, or one stays present with someone in a rough time.
If I can’t, for whatever reason, be with you forever, I can be with you now in a way that will be. I can work toward a hard goodbye.
When I do, it is amazing who sticks around…
For today I am a burner. None of us have taken vows. But we are very much present in each others lives. As much as anyone in my life they have been the type to pull on the old rubber gloves, helped me move, get me where I needed to be. Will they always be my family? Probably not. The sun and the moon will have its way. But Benedict would have me commit to being here for them as long as humanly (or Dougly) possible. I love you all.