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Sunday, June 11, 2017

“Rites of Passage:

Transitions and Change”

Antonia Andreoli


Opening Words “Reluctant Goodbyes” by Kaaren Solveig Anderson


     "I hate goodbyes. I hate everything about them. It bothers me that “goodbye” isn’t really what I think we most often want to say.

     "When those I love leave me, or I leave them, goodbye isn’t what I want to say. I want to tell them that their warm hand on my cheek, which caught my desperate tears, made me feel whole once again. I want to tell them that without their quick giggle and tender words, my life can feel lonely. But no—instead I tell them, “I love you,” give them a big hug, and say goodbye. And they leave and I leave. I feel hollow, discontented, and sometimes lost. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

When those I am in conflict with leave or I leave them, goodbye isn’t what I want to say. I want to talk about pieces of me that are torn, scratched, and fragmented because of our interchanges. I want to tell them that maybe, just maybe, I’ve learned something new: in how to be, in how to live, in how to grow. I wonder why it got so complicated and sticky. But no—instead we say with fortitude, “Goodbye.” I may shake their hand, glad that I won’t have to see them again. But there is so much unsaid, and goodbye doesn’t skim the root of my feelings. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

When time whispers to me, “Move on, here’s the next step, say goodbye,” I watch as my son walks into his first day of kindergarten, confident, filled with anticipation. These are my people, my life, he is thinking.

     “Bye, mom,” he yells to me and signs love. I sign back.

     “Bye,” I whisper. But goodbye isn’t what I want to say. I want to tell him that he is remarkable, brave, that I need more time to adjust to his boyhood, his self-assurance, his friends. I need more time to let go of one more tiny sliver of him. But no—instead I say goodbye. I feel jolted, awakened to time moving forward without me. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

When someone I love dies, goodbye isn’t what I want to say. I want to tell them the truth about us. I want to set it straight. Get to what was real. That their words could hurt, that I wasn’t as strong as they’d hoped, that I still struggle to forgive them. At the same time, I want to tell them that their love made life easier, freer, more accessible. That I’m grateful for their presence. I want to tell them that I forgive them for being human, hoping they did the same for me. But no—instead we say “goodbye” at a memorial service. And I feel captured in a storm of emotions that violently swirl me around. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

     "When life turns to me someday and says, “Say goodbye,” goodbye isn’t what I want to say. I’ll say, “I’ve said ‘Goodbye’ my whole life, let me say it right, now. Just let me say it right.” But life’s hands will close around me, ushering me to something new. It will be the only time where “goodbye” was what I needed to say.  From UUA Worship Web:


Reading by Bets Wienecke

May we learn to recognize and affirm
The pieces of possibility --
The bits of good -- we bring.
May we encourage rather than control;
Love rather than possess;

Enable rather than envy.

Allowing our individual gifts to weave a patchwork of peace:
The soft deep blue of sensitivity and

The red energy of creativity;

The white heat of convictions;
The risky, fragile green of new growth;
The golden flashes of gratitude;
The warm rose of love.

Each of us is indispensable
If we are to minister to a broken and wounded world.

Together, in our gathered diversity,

we form the whole.
So be it.


            Many parents keep a book in which they record the developmental milestones of their baby’s first years – from milk to the first solid food, the first step, the first tooth, the first words – these are the first of so many transitions. From these universally human changes, we all go on to many more - a long list of milestones. The sociologists call these “rites of passage”, when the individual moves from one place in life to another. Many are structured around education: First day of school, graduating from middle school, high school, college. The agony of the college selection process! The exhilaration for the teen of learning to drive and getting that license – the anxiety for the parents of that teen!

            Some follow accepted ritual and cultural norms, such as the traditional white middle class wedding complete with white dress and tossing a bouquet.  Other “nonconforming” souls follow a different path – often challenging those cultural expectations.  In the early 70’s, a woman who lived on an Upper Valley commune brought her baby, born on the farm, to register the birth with the town clerk. The entire community accompanied her – and when the town clerk asked who the father was, every man in the crowd stepped forward.  While the parents were in a monogamous relationship, the commune believed that all the adults should parent all the children. I believe the beleaguered town clerk closed her office rather than figure it out that day….

In 1976, Gail Sheehy published “Passages,” the results of over a hundred interviews in which she explored the many transitions adults experience through the different decades of their lives. I was 31, and although I had been married for nearly ten years, an early marriage typical of my generation, I had no children and so already “off track” for most women of my generation. When I had my first daughter at 32, I was the oldest woman in the maternity word.  As my daughters grew, I was always the oldest mom in the play groups, and when they began to play school sports I was the oldest mother on the sidelines. I remember standing with several of my former high school students from the late 60’s whose daughters played soccer with my oldest daughter. One of them continued to call me “Mrs. A”- she said she couldn’t use my first name!

When at 57, my husband died suddenly, I became the youngest widow in my family and circle of friends.

            This sense of being out of sync with so many of my peers was reinforced when I recently attended my 50th college reunion – most of the women I graduated with have grandchildren in college; some of those grandchildren have married, and my classmates have great-grandchildren. My oldest granddaughter graduates from middle school next week.

            Perhaps coming to the major life stage of motherhood at a different time from most of my family and age cohort set me up for a life time of reflection on personal changes.  Or perhaps nearly forty years of teaching high school, four years which are filled with so many rites of passage, kept the process a conscious one for me.  My best guess is that I have had at least 3300 students, not counting those in my years as a substitute teacher. So many college reference essays, so many graduations, and sadly, even some teen funerals. And every fall, a new crop of freshmen to begin the process again.  I was watching from the sidelines or helping with so many transitions!

In a recent service, the Rev Kitsy Winthrop reminded us that the only constant in life is change. We are ready to recognize that principle in the greater world around us – recent political developments in our own and other countries have demonstrated that. We are ready to recognize that principle in our circle of friends, as they change jobs, get married, get divorced, move away – and we are ready to recognize that principle in our families as we raise those babies, attend sibling and cousin weddings and yes, as we bury our parents. .  I remember looking around at an uncle’s funeral and remarking to my brother-in-law that “we are the old folks now – there is no one left who remembers us when we were kids”.

            But do we recognize that principle of unending change in our own lives?  How have we encountered transition and change?  Resistance to change is normal as most of us become comfortable in the patterns of our lives.  Even welcome and anticipated change can cause stress.  Many decades ago Blue Cross/Blue Shield published a list of life events that can cause stress – both happy events and sad ones.  Each event had a point value attached, and if you added up your points you could learn your risk of a stress related health issue.  Change is stressful.

            Resilience is a word that I have heard used in discussions of which children had the best outcomes dealing with the wrenching process of becoming CASA kids. I spent 9 years as a CASA – a Court Appointed Special Advocate – working with teens whose parents were guilty of abuse or neglect. I believe that the resilient teens I have known have had some inner constant that helped them find and hold their balance.

            Going back to that first year of life – how often have we heard someone, speaking of a child or young adult – “Oh even when she was a baby, she knew her own mind!” Or “he has been taking things apart since he could crawl!” High school yearbook committees come up with a short prediction of the future for each senior – they are usually distilling what they know about that person into a pithy phrase that often isolates that singular talent or strength.  Each of us has a different well of internal resources – and tapping those helps us be resilient.

            Some transitions are welcome changes – an exciting new job, a new baby, happily downsizing from the large family home to a low maintenance condo.  These tap into our enthusiasm and capacity for new experiences.

            Some transitions are weighted with grief and loss – death of loved one, loss of a job, surviving a house fire or other disaster.  These challenge our ability to see tomorrow as a new day as well as our ability and willingness to reach out to others for support.

Again, the only thing that never changes is the fact that everything changes.  Our closing hymn, “Where My Free Spirit Onward Leads”, reminds us that, in the infinite scale of the universe, our lives are “briefer than a kiss”.  Let us appreciate each morning as full of “pieces of possibility”, and walk into that day with both optimism and courage, to make the most of our time.

~ Antonia Andreoli


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