Not farewell!!!

Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS].

At the end of the popular film ‘The Sound of Music’, the family is seen singing the classic song, ‘Auf Weidersehen,’ which includes the words, “So long, farewell, Auf Weidersehen, goodbye. I leave and heave A sigh and say goodbye, Goodbye. I’m glad to go, I cannot tell a lie; I flit, I float I fleetly flee, I fly. So long, farewell, Auf Weidersehen, goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.” Does that sum up how pupils who leave school are feeling? Are they ready to flit, to float, to flee, to fly, to leave their school? How best can we bid them go?

The French have two words for goodbye. The first is ‘Au Revoir’ which literally has the sense of ‘until we see each other again’. We would no doubt shorten it nowadays to ‘Later!’ or ‘Cheers!’ It is casual, informal and personal. The second word is ‘adieu’, which literally has the meaning of ‘until God’, in other words ‘until we meet again in the next life’ – that is, this is a final parting, we are not going to see each other again. So, which of those two words would best describe the feelings of school leavers? Let us hope it will be the first one.

In English we also have two main words for it. The first is ‘goodbye’, which some would take to say ‘good, be on your way’ (which perhaps sounds like a polite version of ‘good riddance’!) The second word is ‘farewell’, which might be seen to be more formal, but echoes the African expressions of ‘go well’ and ‘stay well’. Both ‘goodbye’ and ‘farewell’ could be summed up in another expression, ‘best wishes’ as in both cases we are wanting ‘good’ and ‘well’ for the leaver. However, that is not what we are suggesting here is appropriate.

We are not saying to them, ‘farewell’. It is not because we are shouting out, in the words of another old song, “Please don’t go!” No, no, please do go! It is not because we do not want them to go; it is rather because they must not go well. Now that does not sound very kind or caring so hear this explanation. If we say we want them to fare (or go) well we are saying we want them to have an easy, soft, smooth, good and successful life — but two points need to be made about that. One, that will never happen; life is never a bed of roses (by the way, roses have thorns!). It will be tough, hard, difficult and unpleasant – not all the time but at times and we would not want them to think that if things do not go smoothly that they are failing. Two, we do not want that for them because they would not learn anything from it; they would not grow, learn, develop. It is through the tough times that we learn and grow more. That is why young people in Zimbabwe have an unfair advantage (yes, that is right – advantage, not disadvantage, as many might think) – they are developing their character more quickly through these tough times. Having things easier will not develop them well.

So, what do we want for them? Do we want them to fare ill? Do we want them to fare badly? No and no again! We need them to take the words of two famous men of old. Firstly, the poet TS Eliot once wrote, “Not fare well but fare forward”. We do not want them to fare well; we want them to fare forward. Not backward, retreating through life, slipping back into old habits. Not sideways where they try to avoid and go round difficult situations. But forwards, upwards; life at times will be like climbing up sand dunes – hard, tough, sliding back, steep, but the view from the top is worth it and they will be stronger from the climb. The second person was David Livingstone who gave his life as a missionary in harsh terrains, often seeing little fruit for his labours, but whose motto was “Anywhere as long as forward.” In that light we say to leavers: Fare Forward, not farewell.

The word, ‘goodbye’ though is preferable, for this simple reason. ‘Goodbye’ is in fact short for ‘God be with you’ and that is what we should wish for them, more than anything else. Teachers, parents, friends will not be able to be with them throughout their journey through life but God can. God can and can be with them through those difficult, tough, tiring times and He can help them to handle them. And when God does go with us, we will go forward – David Livingstone knew that.

It is time for leavers to go! Our simple encouragement to them is this — go forward, not well, as they will find that forward is in fact well. And Go with God, as He will help you. God be with you; goodbye. That is what Christmas is about: God with us. Let us take Him with us. That will give us a song to sing!

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
  • Email: [email protected]
  • website: www.atschisz

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