As I mentioned last week, this summer I am taking time to reflect on what it means to say good-bye. Summers have always been a season of transition for me and this year is no different. This summer marks five years since I moved from my hometown of Denver and relocated with my family to Seattle. This season is also the end of many requirements such as a master’s degree, internship, externship and thousands of clinical hours necessary to become a licensed therapist in the state of Washington. For the first time in five years I have no one that I must answer to for a grade or for a signature of approval. And while to some, that may feel freeing, to me, it is terrifying. It means that the constant state of someone else being responsible for my fate has now shifted to me being responsible to create my own assignments and requirements for what it is I want to achieve.
I’d like to illustrate this contrast more clearly anecdotally.
On our recent family vacation, we visited two separate water resorts. One was Glenwood Hot Springs resort and the other was Denver’s epic Water World Outdoor Family Water Park. Going to both locations was a treat for me to share with my kids the places that I frequented when I was a child. And each experience was markedly different from the other.
Dipping into Glenwood Hot Springs was like sinking into one’s personal bathtub. The water is a balmy 93 degrees naturally and its presence on my skin felt like a hug over every inch of my body. If the pavement all around the pool was positively blistering, the water was its salve. In fact, I had gotten two large scratches on my arm earlier on the trip and had put ointment on them daily to try to prevent both scarring and infection. But after my time in the magic sulphur spring my wounds closed perfectly and looked better than they had since the initial puncture.
Even before we swam in the pool, when we exited the I-70 tunnel out of the canyon and into the town, I felt a sense of ease and peace and knowing. I had been there many times before and memories of youth trips and diving contests and steam off the hot water in the winter filled me with consolation and giddy elation. It was like coming home from college for Thanksgiving dinner. I was met with the sites and sounds of the familiar, of tradition, of knowing and being known and I was comforted.
My experience at Water World was vastly different. We went there in the afternoon because the astronomically priced tickets were half off. We knew this meant that we wouldn’t get to do everything we wanted to do, but Lucy and Peter are still young enough that a full day might have been too much sun and water for their little bodies to handle. Since we only had a few hours at the park, we chose our rides carefully, because we knew we would be waiting in line for at least an hour. Neither of our kids had been to water parks that had the caliber of rides that Water World affords, so they were wide-eyed and mesmerized from the time we entered the gates. So, even though waiting in line for an hour was less than ideal, we kept telling them that it was worth the wait. And after we rode on the spiral spinning cavernous Journey to the Center of the Earth, they agreed.
Next, we chose to wait in line for a ride where all four of us were seated in a large raft that would take us plunging down a steep incline and dump us into a toilet-bowl like structure where we would swirl around and around and around and finally be dumped onto another landing that slid us through a waterfall and out to the finishing pool.
One of the best moments of the whole trip was the look on Peter’s face when we approached the initial incline of the “toilet-bowl” ride. I had shifted in the raft to where I was heading backwards down the incline and couldn’t see where we were going. Peter, to my right, was looking dead ahead and saw what awaited us all. As I felt myself fall backwards, I looked at Peter. With goggles over his eyes and his mouth wide open, he screamed a sound that was a mixture of terror and delight while his face expressed the notion of being both scared and excited at exactly the same time. It was priceless. I would wait at least another two hours in line if it meant I got to see that expression again. In an instant, he captured for me what it feels like to be in a place where what awaits you is inextricably both exhilarating and absolutely terrifying.
Lest I digress into more dreams of time gone by, let me circle back to my initial paragraph. [The natural problem with using anecdotes is that they only illustrate the point if they’re not so long that one forgets the initial point meant to be made]. What I meant to demonstrate was contrast. The two water resorts were very different experiences of very much the same thing – water fun. One was comforting, soothing, even healing. The other was exhilarating, terrifying and unnerving. These are the two states that I currently find myself between. I am saying good-bye to the familiar of the last five years and awaiting the unfamiliar of the next five. One has been a source of consolation and healing, will the next be terrifying and unnerving, even if exhilarating at the same time?
Perhaps what is at the core of saying good-bye is that one is leaving the familiar and heading into what is unfamiliar. Who really ever wants to leave the cozy, warm and containing presence of knowing and being known into what seems to be the cold, stark and steep dive into the unknown? And yet, when I really think about it, if I had my choice, I would choose the experience of Water World and witness Peter’s face of exhilaration and delight over the comfort of the hot springs bath any day of the week and twice on a Sunday.