Crosses and Seashells

by Judi Chow

I once visited an old church in the countryside of the Netherlands. What caught my attention were two large displays on either side of the entry in the back of the sanctuary. On the right were many brown wooden crosses with names and dates written on it. On the left were many white seashells with names and dates written on it also. After pondering awhile the meaning behind it, I decided to ask some local people as to confirm my own interpretation. Maybe you have seen it and know what it means. Maybe it is too obvious since you are smarter than me. Maybe I don’t want to think of its implication particularly when I am with my aging parents. Maybe… well, do you want to know? Yes, it has to do with saying goodbyes and hellos. It’s about basic fundamental life and death recognition, a cross for a death and a seashell for a birth.

The image of these crosses and seashells lingered in my mind as if they wanted to say something to me. It is always a joy greeting a newborn babe. It is with anticipation and excitement when we say hello to a stranger that might become our future mate or soul mate. It seems we have more choices after saying hello, we can choose to develop the relationship further, to the degree of its intimacy, or to say goodbye right away. On the other hand, we have little or no control over goodbyes. They are so final, so heart wrenching, so painful due to its separation with our loved ones no matter it is a life or death situation. I hate goodbyes, but I have to endure it and learn to say goodbye properly. It is not easy for me when…

I saw my mom cried when I left for college.

I saw my dad cried when my grandma past away.

I saw a little girl cried when her dad beats her mom up and left them.

I saw a young man cried when his girlfriend broke up with him.

I saw a missionary cried when she left for the field.

I saw Abba Father cried when Adam & Eva had to leave home, the Garden of Eden…

It is much easier for me to say hello than goodbye, because one represents a beginning and the other the end. I remembered a very touching, teary scene from the 1939 classic “Gone with the Wind” when Rhett Butler’s little daughter, Bonnie died. He just locked himself in the room with her, refused to let her go, refused to bury her body, and refused to say goodbye. The deeper the love, the harder it is for the separation.

As missionaries have to face unceasing goodbyes and hellos, how shall we learn to say goodbye properly so we can have the energy and enthusiasm to begin anew with another hello? Missionaries were told to pack light, to bring the necessity only, and to forget what’s behind so we can forge ahead. If it were possible, some of us would rather exchange all our luggage quotas if we can bring our friends or family along. Instead we settled for some photos and maybe a teddy bear to hug along, for the kids of course.

So, is there a proper way to say goodbye? I don’t know, what else is there to accompany a handshake, a hug, a look, a smile, a note, a prayer, or a silent cry? I think it depends on the time and memories we shared. Treasure the happy moments, accept the difficulties, and try to resolve the conflicts. If we leave with God’s permission and with no burdens or regrets, our goodbyes then can be easier or might even be a blessing!

A little wooden cross only marks our final goodbye, what impact we make depends on how we live our lives starting with the first hello represented by that little white seashell.

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