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The meaning of goodbye

ways and means

“See you after the break, then?”

I gave a cursory nod to my friend as we split up after a dinner at Marketplace. I didn’t think much of it—it was Wednesday and I would be leaving for home on Friday. Chances were we would see each other before I left; even if we didn’t, so what? It’d only be a week till we could meet again.

Of course, sitting at home on the 25th of March, I am kicking myself for not reaching out to say goodbye properly before the break began. For a few friends, I did manage a proper farewell on Friday before my flight, but not for most. And although I did reach out to my friends on the phone when news reached about the cancellation of Spring 2020, it didn’t feel quite right. 

It didn’t—and doesn’t—sit right with me that I had failed to say goodbye (properly) to many of my friends, teachers, and acquaintances.

“Goodbye” is crucial for allowing a proper pause in a relationship. It signifies to both parties that we have finished our interaction for the time being; between friends, however, there is an implicit “until we meet again” baked into every goodbye. We are leaving each other until our paths cross again (as we expect they will). It is a sign of finality and hope for the future.

It isn’t, however, just a pause. How do relationships survive over the long summer break we are afforded as Duke students? Through a reminiscence of the past. That last conversation we all expected to have with the people we cared about before the summer was, in most cases, going to be nostalgic. A quick run through from “remember when we met?” to “and all the things we did this semester?” and finally “don’t forget about this—us—for next semester.” That last conversation—The Goodbye—was a way to stabilize and commit to a relationship over the long break. For students speaking to each other for the last time, such as first-years talking to seniors, it would be a send-off, a full retrospection before the final break. And that is also key—because those relationships are likely not ending, but rather being saved until some time long in the future.

The sudden cut-off from campus (during which we were all apart) hit each class differently. For us first-years, we were just beginning to solidify and stabilize our relationships with each other. The last month or so of Spring 2020 was meant to allow the friendships that had been planted in the fall and developed in the winter to finally blossom into life-long bonds.

Now, all of those relationships feel under siege. All the meals, the laughter, the struggles, the triumphs, and the time we could have shared have been stripped away.

Not being on campus for so long will cause a great unfurling, straining, and dissipation of personal relationships across the board. I don’t mean to sound bleak (trust me!); rather, my point in bringing up such a somber prediction is to offer a challenge (and a reminder) to ourselves as students. Do not forget each other, do not let the bonds of comradery and familiarity wane, do not allow our campus culture to be shattered by this virus. Reach out to your friends and speak to them often. Reach out to professors, workmates, graduate students—anyone and everyone you felt connected to on campus and keep that connection alive.

What I fear most is that we return to campus as strangers. We will all change over the next five months as we deal with this crisis—we can’t change the circumstances or the vast distances between us. What we can do, however, is work to stay connected—it might feel awkward to message a friend to let them know you care. Trust me when I say, it will be well received and reciprocated. Each person has their own way of showing care—don’t be afraid to show yours.

Akshaj Turebylu is a Trinity first-year. His column, "ways and means," runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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