In “Goodbye to All That”, the opus written as a farewell to the England he loved and the world he left behind as he moved to the Majorcan village of Deya, Robert Graves elevated leave-taking into an art form. He also made it a highly stylized whine and a now fairly typical retrospective look at a mythical past that never truly was.
Rosy retrospection is a cognitive defense mechanism provided by the brain in order to allow us to face the future without being seriously hampered by the horrors of the past which we have, at any rate, successfully survived.
Goodbyes are difficult moments. We are faced with the inevitability of change and a reminder that connections with others that have affected us will now be lost. It elicits an adverse response in us as a coping mechanism that often finds expression in anger or resentment or remoteness.
We often revel in that sensation because it gives rise to a victim mentality that makes us feel that the responsibility for our actions now shifts onto the shoulders of others. We respond to circumstances we cannot control and hide behind the mechanics of the victim identity because it provides the very thing our stepping into a fresh unknown does not: certitude.
Certainty, from a neurobiological point of view, appeals to some people more than others, perhaps. But it can also trap us into a bias that feeds into some of our worst excesses.
Saying goodbye, of course, also serves as a reminder of endings; the implication of which reminds us of our mortality. Psychologists see endings as challenges to be managed, beginnings as change that needs to be embraced.
You know by now that all of the preceding paragraphs are heading towards a “life is a set of new beginnings”. A sentence which would truly sound trite had it not been said, before me by Lisa Marie Husby, the survivor of one of the most horrific acts of terrorism Norway has experienced.
It is true we are here, on this column and in this new space at a new beginning. I am busy navigating in my head how to best address this, what choices to make, what decision to crystalize towards. Frank Herbert wrote in Dune that “A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.”
In trying to get that balance right, moving forward, I am seeking to make sure that function as well as form are covered in my approach. Behavior as well as intent.
The sentiment is perhaps best expressed through a line C. S. Lewis wrote to Mary Willis Shelburne who, being old and frail, was discussing the end of her life and later published in Letters to An American Lady. “There are better things ahead,” he said “than any we leave behind.”
Whimsically optimistic? Perhaps. But also firmly forward looking and determined to look beyond the past and establish a new future, whatever that may be. And just to put this in slightly more modern context I am totally partial to the Meatloaf lyrics from A Kiss Is A Terrible Thing To Waste:
Tire tracks and broken hearts
It's all we're leaving behind
It doesn't matter what we're losing
It's only matters what we're going to find
I am sure you have coffee. And you must surely have sweets. Croissants and donuts, cookies and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.