The timing of the third post in this series is off: it has been two weeks since the final episode of The Office. But the themes I wanted to analyze happen to intersect with other meaningful situations in my life since then, so I hope the wait results in a richer reflection.
The night of the final episode coincided with the last night before our beloved neighbors’ long planned for move. We were especially blessed to find a home last year that had a backyard adjacent to our pastor’s front yard. This blessing was magnified by the fact that they had also had two children younger than ten, making for instant, spontaneous playmates almost daily. On a typical weekday, the children play until dinnertime and are called in for the evening. But that night, being their last, I decided to let them play as long as the natural light would allow, and then some. Finally around 9, just as the last episode was rolling, we made our children say their last goodbyes.
Prior to the episode itself, they aired an hour-long retrospective documentary. This special highlighted for a few minutes the departure of Steve Carrell, who played the lead character, from the show two years prior, after 7 seasons. We learned how close the other actors, especially Jenna Fisher (Pam), had grown to Carrell and thus how painful it was to say goodbye, not just to the character but to the man. The convergence with the sorrowful goodbyes my children were about to experience coupled with my own emotions about saying goodbye to the show created a kind of transcendent emotional experience. As soon as my children came inside, my son began to weep heavily over the loss of his dear friend. My daughter, two years younger, was oblivious to the moment, until she asked my son why he was crying. When he told her, she lost it, sobbing as intensely as a five year old girl could, inconsolably, eventually crying herself to sleep.
The following week brought another set of goodbyes: it was the last week for the graduating seniors at the high school where I teach. Having taught these students for two years in an intensely personal, potentially life-changing, critical thinking course, I have developed a close bond with many of them. Their moving on was made even more meaningful by the fact that they are the first graduating class I have seen through the full two years of this course. Considering that my personality is stoic to a fault, the tears I shed a few times that week caught me by surprise. On the very last day, one of my best students admitted as she was leaving that she had resolved to not let herself cry, in spite of feeling the sorrow of departure. I simply counseled her to trust in her emotions as a way of knowing (one of the major topics of the course) and that perhaps they were trying to teach her something significant.
While we tend to think of emotions as an impediment to knowing, associating them often with irrationality, when functioning reliably (which is a whole other topic of discussion), however, emotions can help disclose those aspects of reality that are hidden from reason or the senses alone; I am thinking specifically of the moral dimensions of reality. What knowledge do we gain from the sorrow of goodbyes, which goes hand-in-hand with the longing for good things to last forever and the desperate wish we sometimes have to make time stand still? I will add some concluding thoughts this weekend in response to these questions.