It was subtle.
But I saw it.
Maybe I shouldn’t have seen it. Shouldn’t have paying such close attention. Should’ve been more attentive to the task at hand. But I’m a people watcher.
So I saw it.
I was in Yonge-Dundas Square in the middle of downtown Toronto. Picture Times Square in New York as a baby. A tiny, much cleaner baby. I was there with a group of teenagers and adults from my church on a sunny and mild Thursday morning. We were in the city that day putting on a free bike repair clinic in conjunction with Chain Reaction, a bicycle repair ministry under the umbrella of the Toronto Church Planting Network.
It was still early, about the time everyone was headed to work. And there were bicycles everywhere, heading in every direction. Here a bike, there a bike, everywhere a bike, bike. Everybody in Toronto rides bikes. This was the impetus for the free repair clinic – to serve the city and show the love of Jesus by meeting a real need with no strings attached. I was standing on the Northeast corner of the square (at least I think I was), on top of a bench with a large rectangular sign in my hand that advertised the clinic. From my perch I was in a great position to promote our event, and to observe everything that was taking place on that corner of the city.
I had been at my post for about 10 minutes when I saw a man and a woman, on bicycles of course, riding south together down Victoria Street towards my corner of the Square. When they arrived at the intersection, traffic wasn’t going in their favor, so they stopped and rested while they awaited their turn to move. It wasn’t but a few seconds before the light turned green. At this point it became clear that they were about to head off in different directions. Their body language indicated a separation, a slight bend away from each other. Then, they leaned in towards each other and kissed briefly, before he continued south on Victoria street and she started west on Dundas. For whatever reason, my eyes followed her face.
That’s when it happened.
Something unexpected and seemingly out of place.
She was smiling as she rode away.
It would be hyperbole to say I was shocked by her expression, but I definitely felt a tinge of surprise. It seemed a strange reaction, a disconsonant note, this happiness at goodbye. I have no idea what their relationship was, only that they seemed to be more than friends. There was no way of knowing how long they were going to be apart. For all I knew they might have been re-united just a short time later. But her smile was so real and true that it appeared to be more of a hello face than a goodbye face.
Goodbyes are inevitable in our lives. We experience them everyday, on different levels. Your spouse leaves for work each morning, or maybe she goes out of town on business. Your relative or dear friend comes to visit, and eventually it’s time for them to go. You send your children off to school for the day, or maybe you send your son or husband off to war. You graduate, you get promoted, you transfer, you move, you grow up, you grow old.
Goodbyes are as much a part of our lives as anything else we experience. And goodbyes are supposed to be sad. They’re supposed to make us wistful, blue, reminiscent. They almost always prompt sighs, longings, or tears. When it comes to people we really care about, they’re almost never enjoyable or fun.
Which is why her goodbye smile appeared so mismatched.
Until it hit me.
She must have realized how fortunate she was.
Movement is a part of life. “A body in motion tends to stay in motion.” We’re always on the go, moving from place to place, job to job, cause to cause, dream to dream. In order to move, we have to leave things behind. Often we leave people behind, sometimes for a brief time, sometimes for a season, and sometimes for good.
Maybe what we want and need more than anything is someone who will make us smile as we leave.
Someone who feels that pain of separation as strongly or stronger than we do. Someone who will not be as fulfilled because of our absence. Someone who will miss us when we’re gone. And if we have that, just one person, who wishes they could be with us even when they can’t, maybe that’s a reason to smile big, and real, and true. Maybe we’re blessed way more than we ever realized.
This week parents are sending little ones to school for the very first time, or sending eighteen year-olds to college for the very first time. Eighteen year-olds are leaving family and friends to discover new family and friends. Families will be moving, companies will be relocating, dreams will be chased to the ends of the earth. Everywhere tomorrow, people will be leaving, some for a little while, some for a little longer, some forever.
Goodbyes are inevitable. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s what we need to really appreciate the people in our lives, to stop taking relationships for granted, to be fully aware of the gift.
And maybe you don’t know it, maybe you can’t know it because you’re always headed off in a different direction…
But chances are, you’ll make someone smile as you ride away.
“You’ve got all you need, and more. Someone to be lonely for.” – Amy Grant