When I travel, I mostly think about the excitement of arrival in a new place. But leaving is also a part of travel. Strike that—leaving is part of life.

One way to leave…

We leave a home of 40 years to move into an assisted living facility. We leave the circle of our parent’s care (and control) never to return in the same way again. We leave a church congregation because we disagree with its beliefs, even though it pains us to separate from so many people we know and love. We leave on vacation. We leave for college. We leave a relationship. We leave this life. We leave the familiarity of a seemingly healthy world for the danger of pandemic. We leave a time of pandemic for a future of God-knows-what. We leave the city for the country. We leave the country for the city. We leave one country for another. We leave on planes and in automobiles, in moving vans and coffins. We leave in our bodies and hearts and minds. 

When it is a “positive leaving” (whatever that means) I think I often depart a place or situation without paying enough attention to what is left behind. It is only later that I yearn for my warm and spacious bed, regular communication with friends, and familiar streets on which to walk. I pay attention to the arrival and often avoid considering the leaving, the “parting.”

The Parting Glass?

Lately I have been listening over and over to a song called “The Parting Glass,” a traditional farewell anthem, with roots in both Irish and Scottish folk music. I find the words and melody to be both warm and haunting. This bittersweet song helps me think more deeply about partings small and large. Here are the lyrics and audio of the song (there are several versions—some with additional verses) as sung by the group The Wailin’ Jennys:

Oh all the money that e’er I spent
I spent it in good company
And all the harm that e’er I’ve done
Alas, it was to none but me
And all I’ve done for want of wit
To memory now I can’t recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all

Oh all the comrades that e’er I’ve had
Are sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e’er I’ve had
Would wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I’ll gently rise and I’ll softly call
Good night and joy be with you all

Good night and joy be with you all

As I consider the song, so many things come to mind. Perhaps the singer is content and looking back on a good life—but as for me—I have questions.

  • How have I spent my money, my time? 
  • Who are those that are my “good company?” 
  • Who have I harmed? How have I hurt myself? Can I really let these things go? 
  • What damage have I left in my wake? 
  • Have I overlooked things that I have done because of “want of wit” (I take that to mean lack of wisdom)?
  • How much and whom have I forgotten?
  • Who are my comrades and sweethearts? Will they miss me? Will I remember them?
  • Can I leave life “gently” and “softly?” Should I?
  • Can I wish others joy even as my time with them will end? 

Leaving is a central human act. We dare not overlook all that it means, whether the leaving be brief or eternal. The Hebrew scriptures make much of leaving. Abram and Sarai are called to leave home as a way of serving God. “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you…” The Hebrew people are called by God through Moses to leave enslavement in Egypt as a way of entering into a new land and new place in God’s work. In the New Testament Book of Acts the resurrected Jesus is taken away into heaven as a preamble to the work of the Spirit among his disciples in the world. In the Gospel of John Jesus underlines his leaving as a means of making way for this same “Advocate,” the Spirit. In scripture, some form of leaving precedes all new arriving. So it is with our lives. There is pain and joy, yearning and newness in our leaving.

But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I’ll gently rise and I’ll softly call
Good night and joy be with you all

Spiritual Practice: Don’t Forget to Say Goodbye

Many people find saying goodbye quite difficult. 

We don’t want a good thing to end so we refuse to acknowledge it. We don’t want to face the deep loss that leaving creates in us. We are so caught up in the future we don’t think to acknowledge the present. We fear that leaving will create a permanent break with no hope of return.

The truth is, we don’t know what reality exists beyond any leaving. But what we can do is be grateful for who and what has been. So here is the practice—don’t forget to say goodbye. Obviously, say goodbye to friends and family. Embrace them and love them as if this is the last time. But say goodbye and offer gratitude to things that are a bit more “inanimate.” (I am learning this from Lena.) To a favorite chair that has been your companion in reading and thinking, and praying and resting. To a particular tree that has blessed you with beauty though the seasons. To worn down shoes that have kept you moving. To a book that has lived on your nightstand and given you comfort in dark times. Drink from the “parting glass.” Acknowledge the moment. Say goodbye.

11 thoughts on “Leaving…

  1. Touching!

    Thank you, Roy Chastain “I am coming to be quite contented learning to do very little – slowly.” Lionel Hardcastle [In “As Time Goes By”]



  2. Hi Jim, your post came just in time. Rick and I leave for Utah tomorrow. This really touched my heart. As you know, I love to travel, but it is hard to leave the place, the things, and my loved ones. You reminded me to send that good-by text. You probably know this, but “The Parting Glass” is sung at the end of “Waking Ned Devine”. If you haven’t seen it, you and Lena would love it. Blessings, Barbara


    1. Barbara – so great to hear from you. I did know about Waking Ned Devine… Travel safely – blessings to you!


      1. Jim, that was sad so profound. I especially embrace saying goodbye before you know it is time. The same way saying l love you every time you’re with someone special.


  3. Jim,
    Your essays touch my heart and remind me of what is important….keep up the good work and thank your for sharing!


  4. I have come to realize we are constantly both arriving and leaving every moment of everyday. I have many rich memories of experiences, places and people I have previously “left”.
    I have discovered upon returning it is difficult to reexperience (or recreate) what I fondly departed. I have realized that both myself, places or other people have changed and I have arrived at a new moment and place.
    I have discovered my expectations are a desire to reexperience or recreate what I left. More importantly I have realized while departing I need to become comfortable saying goodbye so I can truly enjoy my new arrival and experience.


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