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By Dr. David B. Whitlock
"I went back upstairs one more time and said 'goodbye' to my room. I'm ready to go now."
Dave's words were my signal: Cutting my eyes towards him as he walked to his car, I turned on the headlights in the early morning dawn, put the U-Haul in gear, and we all - Dave, Lori, Madi, and I - headed south, caravan style.
He had already been away four years in college. But that was less than an hour away. Now, having spent the summer working and living at home, it was time for him to move on, nine hours away, to begin another phase of life. Moving away seemed more permanent this time.
"What did you say to your room?" I asked him, about 300 miles down the road, at the truck stop where we refueled.
His faint smile of resignation required no explanation; I understood, for I've said "goodbye" to many a room along life's way. When we say "goodbye," we face ourselves, at least the self we think we knew for that chapter of life - and we filter the changes through the lens of time as we exit one room and step onto the next road of the journey.
Months later, back home, I'm driving to visit a friend. Turning down the street, I hear the bark of an auctioneer in front of a house.
In the front lawn of the auctioned house an older couple, maybe in their late 70s, stand sadly - or so it appears - watching with tired eyes as the whole thing transpires: people bidding for items once treasured by a family, now on the auction block - going, going, gone. And the tall man with slumped shoulders, wearing overalls stares at the auctioneer like he is an executioner, while his wife in a simple cotton skirt stares at the ground.
Where are they moving? Where have they been? And have they told their rooms, "goodbye"?
Having arrived at my friend's home, I notice on the wall a painting of an old house. I immediately recognize it because I drive by it every day. Unaware of its history, I feel like an ignorant tourist unknowingly trampling on sacred ground. It was a beautiful ante-bellum home, built in the late 1850s. Having past through several owners, it ended up in her family. After she had grown up in it, the home was auctioned in 1977. Now, the once stately, proud historical home is dilapidated, covered in trees and vines. Where once there were rooms filled with laughter and life there is now only silence and decay.
Her face brightens at my interest.
"Momma took a picture of each room before it was sold."
Now my friend shows me her old home in photographs. One picture shows plates hanging on the kitchen wall. They are painted with the faces of the children; the grandchildren are painted on saucers.
"Momma painted each one herself," my friend informs me.
I wondered if each child said "goodbye" to those rooms before the house went empty, auctioned away. And did those grandchildren know what those rooms meant?
What do rooms mean, anyway?
They carry meaning because a part of us still resides in those rooms, even after the house has been bought, sold, resold and finally lies in ruins. We enter and reenter parts of ourselves in each one of those rooms, for they carry a piece of our life puzzle, fitting us together, giving us clues of who we are today: They encompass a part of our life - our hurts, our joys, our victories, and our defeats. We can say goodbye to them; we can move beyond them; but they go with us, because part of us happened there.
Maybe you carry it in photographs, but finally, you carry it in your heart - that room where you watched TV, that room where you ate at that kitchen table, that room where you could be alone, that room where you rocked the baby. It's a room that formed your yesterday, shapes your today and touches your tomorrows.
You can say "goodbye" to it, but it's never gone. Not completely. It's still a part of the emotional luggage you carry out the door.
Indeed it is.
Or you wouldn't have bothered to walk back up the stairs.
You wouldn't have opened the door one last time and said, "Goodbye, room."
Editor's note: Contact David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., at email@example.com or visit his website, www.davidbwhitlock.com.