We had a couple of students leave us last week. We’ve known for a while that it was coming — their family is moving out of town for professional opportunities, and we’ve been fortunate that they were willing to stay with us right up until moving day. For their final class, we gave everyone in their class the chance to shake hands, exchange hugs, and say goodbye. I managed to keep from bawling, but it was a near thing. Despite my tears, the overwhelming emotion I felt was happiness — happy to have had these two wonderful people in our classes, happy for their new opportunities, and happy to see how much their presence had had a positive effect on our other students and instructors.
Here’s what got me, though: how rarely we have been given the opportunity to really say goodbye to our students.
I know the reasons. Saying goodbye is hard. Saying goodbye to a martial arts instructor means that you are “quitting” your training, and that carries a load of guilt for a lot of folks. It’s so much simpler to just “withdraw from the program” or send an email saying that your child is “no longer interested.” Your child is sensitive; you believe he or she can’t handle the emotions of leave-taking in person. All of that makes sense, but making sense is not the same as doing the right thing.
As a martial arts instructor, and especially as a school owner, I am deeply invested in every student here. From the minute a prospective student walks in the door, he or she takes a place in my thoughts, my plans, my decisions. We as a community of instructors invest in a student immediately, giving generously of our time, attention, imagination, and emotions right from the start. So there really isn’t a point at which one could argue that it hasn’t been long enough to really warrant a goodbye — if you’ve taken an Introductory Lesson, then we have a relationship. If we have a relationship, then ending that relationship warrants an actual goodbye.
I’m grateful to our students who have honored our relationship and our community’s investment in their lives and well-being by saying goodbye when they’ve stopped being our students. It makes me aware of my obligations to all the people in my life, however “casual” I may consider the relationship to be. If someone has put time and energy into me or my family, I owe that person a solid, personal expression of my gratitude, and, if our relationship is ending, I owe that person an appropriate goodbye.