And would it have been worth it after all, after a joyous Christmas Eve with ukulele songs, after the slow waking on Christmas morning, after the tree and turkey and mince pies, after the dog walks, the games of Catan, the coffee cups and wine, would it have been worthwhile, to have rolled up every last crumb of universal time into one ball...
...to have used every moment to its fullest?
The long minutes before you say goodbye often seem like wasted time. You don’t know what to say because you’ve had your fill of celebration and relaxed by now into an easy family dynamic. You're no longer desperate to make your time run. Instead you are calm in each other’s company, confident that Christmas will last forever.
So to have done more with those final hours would be a mistake. Instead you sat together on the sofa, daydreaming or talking of nothing special, and you put on the kettle, and lazed away the morning.
The thing about goodbyes is the difference between those final relaxing hours and the final tense minutes when time has run out. When you hold each other close, knowing it will be many months, and many transatlantic hours until you are together again. You wasted the final morning packing and doing one last load of laundry, but those hours were better because of it. You couldn’t have soaked each other up another drop, so instead you let it run its course, until you were faced with a final moment. It came upon you suddenly and you hugged each other deeply and held back the tears.
This is what it was like yesterday afternoon when our two sons left for Australia on two different planes three hours apart. Elliot had been given frequent flier miles to travel there and visit his brother for winter break, and Alex was returning to Australia in time for the new years celebration, and another year of work.
We said goodbye to Elliot first. “Don’t do anything foolish,” I urged him. “Don’t swim in waters infested with piranhas or sharks!” Laughing, he promised he wouldn’t, while Rozzie said, “is that really the naughtiest thing you can imagine them doing, Mama?”
“No,” I said, “not the naughtiest. Just the one I’d really never forgive, if something happened.”
So he got into the car and Ben drove him to Dulles Airport, while the rest of us went inside and wasted our final hours. It was only Alex and me and Rozzie and the dogs by now, and we were letting time run out until Ben returned in the car, when we went through the ritual of saying goodbye again.
Something about all the time changes and speed between connections, gave the whole experience a through-the-looking-glass quality. When I picked Alex up a few weeks ago at 9 pm at Dulles I asked what time it was for him. “1 o clock tomorrow afternoon,” he said.
Now, ten days later, they were embarking on journeys, which would have them miss December 29th entirely. Instead, they’d both be satellites flying halfway round the globe, all through that day, faster than the speed of the planet.
|wasting the final hours together|
It’s crossing the international dateline that confuses me the most. I don’t think at this point I’m ever going to understand. As a result, my dreams last night were full of confusing images – the idea that by the time they landed it would be December 30 in Australia while still the 29th for us – and that they would then go into a new year many hours ahead of us. The fact that now they have landed and it's still the 29th for us, but isn't for them, and never was.
I woke up in the middle of the night and checked my phone and saw that Elliot had texted me before his final connection, all the legs of the journey having run smoothly.
We then spent a day watching the snow fall, and waiting for it to stop so that we could walk the dogs. We saw a hawk high up in the trees on our walk and returned to make lentil soup, and to talk. Then Rozzie checked her phone to find that Alex had skyped her.
He was in the arrival area in Sydney waiting for Elliot to get in too. Rozzie called him back, and as we spoke to him, miraculously Elliot arrived behind him, and there they were, united in Australia while we looked at them on a tiny screen on the other side of the globe. That’s when our goodbyes turned into hellos and the departure didn’t seem so hard.
There are many during this season of terrible loss who would give anything for a glimpse at their loved ones on a tiny screen, just to see that they had arrived safely. That they had landed somewhere else after a difficult journey. For them it might be the casual nature of their final mornings together, when they said goodbye at Sandy Hook, that makes their departure so painful. You want to hold them close and make the final hours count for more than that, but making it count for more would have spoken of desperation. I wish for all those who had to say such goodbyes, to feel that some of the best hours they experienced together as families were hours they chose to waste. It was the wastefulness of abundance and comfort in each other’s company. Of taking each other for granted. There may be no comfort quite as profound as the company of those you take for granted.