SONY DSC{Mug-prompted meditations for Lent…a cup-a-day.}

Not to worry. The title doesn’t portend a final goodbye (as far as I know). It is apt when applied to this particular mug though. When we left Richmond after over 25 years there, the goodbyes were difficult. We were excitedly looking forward to our new life in Vermont, yet the leave-taking meant the end of many friendships, even with well-meaning intentions to hold on to people whose lives meant so much to us. Among the parting gifts were two mugs, identical except for the names. This one was Joan’s obviously, and the other will make its appearance here in a few days.

“Your Richmond friends love you,” both mugs read. And inscribed on the underside of the mug it says, “From Bicks.” I recall the gentle caution that came with these gifts. The Bicks had put a ring of felt on the bottom, a bit of soft cushion to protect table surfaces, and the concern was that the glue wouldn’t hold. Seems to me that the instruction was to use the vessel as more of a pen holder than coffee cup. So, that’s what we’ve done.

The history aside, the sentiment is what we hold dear. Don’t forget; your Richmond friends love you. We haven’t forgotten. Our love for them was deeply rooted in the rich soil of neighborhood, work (ministry), and community. A quarter century deep. While we lived briefly on the Northside of the city, and just as briefly in the West End, it was the Bon Air suburb that we called home for two decades. We first moved into a home that had just been built so recently that we got to choose paint colors and wallpaper designs. And grass seed. As the family grew, we needed more space, so we chose a small lot a couple of subdivisions away, picked a house plan, and watched that home go up in just a few weeks. Point being: the neighborhood and church, the park, the schools, the friends…were constant in those years.

When your kids begin kindergarten and finish high school in the same community, and when you get involved with civic groups and plant yourself (or find yourself planted) in the same church, and when your work makes connections with colleagues and comrades you enjoy the occasional lunch with, that is a gift we still cherish after many years and miles away.

Then it was time to go to Vermont. A big celebration at the church, smaller get-togethers in homes, and some more intimate lunches — those brought the farewells. We exchanged hugs and handshakes and mutual words of affection, and shed some tears, all because we loved those people and that place, and the mug says they loved us. Of course, it didn’t take a mug, but there it is. Eventually, a couple of friends found their way up north to see us in the years that followed. And we’ve headed south more than a few times to re-visit Richmond and vicinity. We’ve kept in tentative touch through letters, social media, phone calls, and even through our newspaper writer friend whose columns reminded Richmond we had been there.

Still. Goodbye. Farewell. Adieu. (I’m very close to breaking into that song from “The Sound of Music.” You know the one.) The thing is, the term “goodbye” doesn’t really mean the end of anything. It started as “God be with you.” Implying, ’til we meet again. (Another song…may as well write an opera.) So, saying our goodbyes is just another way of blessing one another as we move in different directions…for awhile. Might be a short while, or forever. But my best wish, or my deepest prayer, is “God be with you” as we separate.

Farewell is like unto it. I pray you will fare well while we are apart. The word has taken on a finality though, as in, “This is the last time we’ll offer words and embraces and share life’s paths; farewell! For good.” But I prefer the term as a prayer, that one would fare well, meet few bumps along the way, and travel safely and joyfully the road ahead. So that next time our paths cross, we will say to one another, “You look so good! You haven’t changed a bit! ” And we’d smile broadly, both having fared so very well.

It’s common to make farewell speeches. Washington’s Farewell Address. McArthur’s.  Obama’s. Some are full of resignation, and others summarize achievements. What they have in common is that they are monologs. The one leaving speaks, as if the ones left behind have nothing to say. But when we lesser types say goodbye at the party or the dinner, the farewells are dialogical.  We wish one another Godspeed and fare thee well. We get to use voices and body language to express gratitude for friendships and hope that we will meet again.

And love. That is the foundation for the most sincere of farewells. Because of our love for one another, we cannot offer anything less than that prayer for God’s keeping us safe while we are away from each other, as well as the hope that that absence will not diminish our friendship. I love that the mugs from the Bick family didn’t say Goodbye. They just reminded us of the love that binds true friends to one another… always.

Perhaps a more precise way to say farewell these days is, “Peace be with you.”

And also with you.

[Once again, this is not goodbye in these Lenten posts! I’ll be back tomorrow. But nonetheless…PEACE to you.}