What we talk about after our workout: Butt blisters. Creepy come-on lines. Potty training. The salt content of cruise-ship food. How to make your own tutu. If pink weight lifting gloves are cute or a cop out. And of course, the daily discussion of What’s For Dinner. (Grand prize goes to the lady who thought ahead enough to both buy the special ingredients and remember to put them in the crockpot that morning. The grand prize being, naturally, kids that whine about every bite. But hey she has the admiration and envy of all the other Gym Buddies!). The fetid stretching mats have been the site for many a strange, awkward and hilarious conversation amongst the Gym Buddies and I over the past six years. It’s one of the things I’ll miss most when I leave (in less than two weeks – not that I’m freaking out about that at all. Noooo.).
But the other day, it got serious. It was just Allison and I and it started because we were talking about the terrible pain of saying goodbye. I hate saying goodbye. I hate it more than I hate jumping pull ups. I hate it more than a long run with no music. I hate it more than I hate ceiling fans. Heck, I even hate it more than I hate swimming and you all know how much I hate being wet and cold! Saying goodbye is an inevitability that I honestly haven’t wanted to talk about much since we first found out (a week ago – not that I’m freaking out about that at all. Noooo.) that we are moving from Minnesota to Denver, Colorado. It hurts too much. And the best way to avoid that pain is to pretend that it isn’t happening. Every day as we leave the gym I say to my friends (for they have all become so much more than gym buddies), just like I always have, “I’ll see you later!” And I mean it.
But the other day, Allison called me on it. “When?” she asked curtly. I gave her a watery smile. “I’m sure I’ll see you again… sometime.” She raised an eyebrow, “Like…?” And then I said one of the dumbest things I’ve possibly ever said to her. And I have said A LOT of really dumb things to Allison. “Well, there’s always the next life!”
I didn’t mean it to be glib – my faith in the existence of a great After has been one of the most powerful driving forces in my life (in fact, the LDS “Mormon” concept of what happens after we die may be the thing I love the very most about my religion, it is so perfectly hopeful) – but it came across that way. This may make you think I’m as annoying as a TV with only one channel showing The Real Housewives 24/7 but here it is: Sadness makes me philosophical. Not because it gives me answers. Because it gives me perspective. And when you’re hurting perspective is really the only thing that helps at all. (Well, that and chocolate.)
Allison looked hurt. “What- in heaven?? I hate that answer. It doesn’t make any sense. Are you just saying we should kill ourselves now? Because if Heaven’s so great then why doesn’t every just kill themselves to get there?”
It’s because, I think, that then we’d short circuit the process designed to make heaven. Not that we make our own heaven, per se, but that what we learn over our lives increases our capacity to experience and appreciate the heaven created for us. Heaven isn’t a prize handed out like a trophy to the person that has endured the most, rather our sufferings only enlarge us if we allow them to change us. And they change us by hollowing us out, creating a space wherein to hold the blessings. Pain gives us context and without context joy is meaningless. You can’t truly appreciate “having” until you know the heartbreak of “losing”. Yes, I know I should have gone into country music songwriting. Missed that boat along with the one for becoming a professional fake mustache maker. (Seriously, I’m gooood at fake ‘staches. It’s a gift I discovered after trying out for the high school musical and failing so miserably that the only thing the director could think to offer me was Makeup Artist in Charge of Fake Facial Hair for Boys Not Pubescent Enough to Grow Their Own. I was in the program and everything! Plus it was the closest I got to the really popular boys’ lips during my entire academic tenure.)
But see? There I am avoiding it again. I’d rather talk about my hellacious high school experience than talk about saying goodbye. I hate saying goodbye.
Yet it’s often the things we don’t want to do the most that we need to do the most. (Like swimming, maybe?) I have to say good-bye to all the wonderful people I’ve met here. People who have loved me through mental illness, through pregnancy, through euphoria, through pride, through pain, through the breadth and depth of the human condition. These friends have been my rock. And proving, again, that they know what I need even when I don’t, they ripped the band-aid off for me: On Saturday Turbo Jennie coordinated a surprise last Turbokick/farewell party for me. To force me to face my fears. To give me a chance to say good-bye. To let myself cry.
And cry I did! (Go big or go home, I always say!) No cute, tear-stained cheeks for this girl – it was full-blown Boy George mascara tears and sobbing. I started crying when I got to the gym and saw everyone (even old friends that have long since stopped coming to my Y) dressed up in tutus, in my honor. I cried when I saw they’d written “We’ll miss you tutu much!” in marker on the studio mirrors. I cried listening to each carefully picked track, realizing how well Jennie had to have known me to have picked all my faves. I cried watching Allison next to me, the girl who has been next to me for every Great Fitness Experiment for almost 7 years, and realizing that soon I would be standing alone. Again. I cried when they played Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” at the end because they know it’s my favorite (don’t judge!) even though everyone else haaates Josh Groban. (True story: when it started playing with its characteristic bagpipes, Ted yelled out “Are we at a farewell party for Charlotte or an Irish funeral at sea?!”) I cried when I saw the cake that said “Happy Trails!” as if I were a pioneer setting off on the Oregon Trail (only to die of cholera in Colorado – I hated that game!). I cried so hard I was nauseous and then couldn’t even eat the cake.
All that heaviness that’s been on my heart the past week, finally let out.
Then, doing my best to further unnerve my already tweaked children, I cried all the way home, cried through my shower and cried until I had to take out my contacts because my eyes were getting so swollen I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find them. At last I laid down – next to Jelly Bean to help soothe her to sleep. I don’t usually do this but little sister knows that things are messed up right now and she’s taken to crapping her pants five times a day in response. (Fun Kid Fact #49: Kids under stress will revert in whatever developmental milestone they’ve been working on. Yay for reverse potty training!) Trying to comfort her that she was safe and that I was here, I put my hand gently on her back. As I did I felt all the hands of all the people who have loved me resting gently on mine. The weight was reassuringly heavy.
Everyone will leave you eventually. Whether through death or circumstance, it is an inevitable fact of life. But where some may see this pain as reason to never open themselves up to love again, I see it as all the more reason to love people while you still have them. It doesn’t take away the pain but it does give me perspective. Will I get new Gym Buddies? No. These friends are special and irreplaceable. But I will meet new friends and I will love them. I hope they will love me too. Because, as Jelly Bean drifted off to sleep, secure in the now, I realized that I could only cry so much because I love so much. It is a gift.
I still don’t like saying good-bye. I’m still really bad at it. And I’m still going to say “I’ll see you later!” and mean it beyond the meta. (I’ll come back to visit!) But at least now I remember that there is just as much love and hope in good bye as there is pain and sadness. (Plus I also remembered that I’m not dying. And neither are they. So, you know, there’s that.)
How are you at saying good-bye? Have any tips for me? How do you cope with sadness – do you get philosophical too or turn to some other outlet? Lastly, what do you talk about after your workout??