Wednesday, May 8, 2013


How do we know when to exit?  When it is time to take our leave?

How we negotiate that exit?

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot has studied how we exit--- how we face endings and leave-takings, how we say goodbye to people, places, situations, organizations and institutions.  

In Exit:The Endings That Set Us Free, she describes the connection between the way we negotiate small goodbyes--those everyday leave-takings--and the manner in which we face the larger, more significant, life-changing goodbyes, including the ultimate goodbye--death.

As in her previous texts, Lightfoot allow us to eavesdrop as she conducts essential
conversations and raises critical questions in her fascinating interviews, creating portraits of interviewees, not only of their exits, but of their  lives leading to the exits.

Through the eyes of her subjects, we examine the many ways we leave home, find our voices, and escape to or create our freedom.  Through the eyes of her subjects and through her deep insights, we explore the wounds sometimes created in leaving, and how rites and rituals can mark, ease, and lead us through our own exits.

To learn more about exits, click here to listen to or read an interview with Lightfoot at
As I was listening to NRP on April 29, Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock was discussing her decision to leave the group after almost 35 years. She indicated how she knew it was time:
 I had a birthday last year, and realized that I had been in Sweet Honey for exactly half of my life. And something hit me, because there are a number of things I've been involved in at the same time that I've been involved in Sweet Honey in the Rock, and I realized that I was beginning to struggle with how to do everything. And I
felt like I really had been trying to nurture and grow some other projects and things, and then I wanted to spend maybe the next third of my life actually seeing them come to fruition, and felt that perhaps now was the time. So I announced it to the group last July, and at the end of May, that will be my leaving day.
 Click here to listen to or read the full interview with Ysaye Barnwell at

So how do we face leaving?  How do we say goodbye to that which we know and step into the next phase of our lives?

Walter Brueggelmann, one of our foremost Old Testament scholars, speaks about the grace of God as he, at transition times, takes away all we are prepared to do--- as when relocating or changing careers, as at retirement.

Where do we go and how do we live at this point?

I wrestled with this question all of my last year of teaching and I didn’t understand all that was spinning and churning in my soul. The inertia, the loss, the sorrow and the fear--all surprised me, as at the very same time I enthusiastically and ecstatically marched, victoriously, triumphantly to the finish line of my public school teaching career.

How do we exit with grace?

As she considers own her path in leaving her responsibilities for shepherding a parish, Barbara Brown Taylor defines three stages in life in Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith: finding life, losing life, and then keeping life.

It seems to me that I was, perhaps am still, amidst all three phases.

I diligently prepared for my teaching career from the first day I played school with my blackboard desk and dolls (or willing playmates, if available) in our refinished basement. I rehearsed classroom management and pedagogical postures, joyously instructing dolls in the art of writing and reading, taking turns, and sharing.

I diligently prepared. 

2,340 days of elementary and secondary education followed by 200 hours of undergrad work and 50 hours of graduate work , immediately followed with another 30 hours of post-graduate work, including 18 hours of reading recovery and advanced reading recovery training --and ironically, for a person who spent most of her career teaching struggling students or teaching teachers to teach struggling students, 9 hours of gifted education, as well. Not to mention inestimable professional development workshops and trainings in which I participated or planned and/or facilitated in Columbus City Schools, and then later in the Columbus Area Writing Project. 

Yes, I had diligently prepared

My doll classes were always perfect--- setting the bar extremely high.

When to leave is a crucial consideration. I had always promised myself that I would not be that blue-haired lady on the second floor who could no longer hear the difference between learning noise and random, chaotic noise, the subtleties between excitement and focus, and boredom and disrespect 

It was important to me to leave before cynicisms completely overshadow effectiveness, to leave while still fascinated and yet undone-want-to-do things remained.

One way I explored this idea of retiring is in poetry. Click here to read Thirteen Ways of Looking at  Leaving School.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibility

List exits that you have negotiated

Reflect on how you have handled these leave-takings. What are your memories, postitive and negative, about these experiences? How did you formally or informally mark the exits?

What would you do differently if given a chance to have a do-over?

How did you say goodbye?

Write a personal essay or poem about a particular exit.

What did your learn about your exit style?



  1. A very thought-provoking narrative, which certainly helps focus one's attention not only on regular departures, but on their legacy.

  2. Reach4It,
    As a result of this exploration I am, indeed, more aware of exits of many kinds which I had not considered before--particularly the small ones that we may not recognize at the time, but that do indeed have a legacy.
    Thanks you for taking the time to both read this post and to comment.