What does goodbye mean?

What does ... farewell actually mean?

"Goodbye ..." With these words we say goodbye to all kinds of people. And that's very easy for us. Because it doesn't hurt when we have to leave the woman in the shoe shop or the nice waitress. Yes, we don't even think about it with a friend. After all, we assume - as the choice of words already shows - that we will not have met her for the last time. We'll see you again. Either because we are in the area at the moment, or because we just feel like it. It is not a real farewell, but a temporary separation.

When someone or something is simply no longer there

But sometimes we also say: "I'll call you". Or: "See you!" Although we know that most likely it won't. Instead of confronting the end, we remain vague, shirking ourselves from being honest. We'd rather leave a back door open. It's more convenient. A real farewell, on the other hand, has something final about it. But how do we deal with when people and things disappear from our lives, whether we want to or not? What do we do with this feeling of irretrievability, as Hannah Arendt calls it?

"Philosophizing means learning to die"

We have to literally "take" the farewell: assume that it cannot be changed, that we will have to live with a gap, a memory, a pain. This is a thoroughly brave moment. It's about nothing less than agreeing to evanescence, which we can only reasonably cope with as long as it is about withered bouquets. We avoid the subject of death as much as possible. The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne once said that philosophizing means learning to die, and he meant that in philosophical thinking we can practice accepting impermanence.

To say goodbye symbolically and truly

A real goodbye also means choosing to walk around with a scar, but not a permanent wound that brings new pain with every step. How it works? By devoting ourselves to what we have to or want to give away - and not running away with busyness. It's worth standing at the train station and waving at the train, celebrating a ceremony for the dead rabbit, writing a farewell letter, or even daring to take a really last look at what is just not what it used to be.

Space for something new

Hermann Hesse was right when he conjured up the magic that is inherent in every beginning, which of course always has an end in itself. But this magic only gets a chance if the old actually comes to an end and gives way to the new. What do you want to say goodbye to in the old year? The best way to find out is to invite all of your bad habits to a lavish farewell party.

Ina Schmidt, 39, is a philosopher and author. She founded the initiative "denkraeume", with which she brings the wisdom of great thinkers from the ivory tower of science into everyday life.