Saying goodbye requires courage. In order to say goodbye, one needs to be able to look at the person/memories/experiences that one is leaving behind and be willing to admit that it is over…either temporarily or permanently. One needs to be willing to let go of cherished experiences, and relationships knowing that this specific time period is over and that there will never be another relationship or experience quite like it. Saying goodbye involves not just letting go of the past but also of any number of possible futures. When we move away, when we change jobs, when we breakup, when we die, we bid adieu to what could of, should of, would have been. In saying goodbye, we acknowledge that what we had or what we could have had, is no more. Saying goodbye requires us to pause and stop running long enough to acknowledge that something vital to us-a friendship, a dream, a life, is ending, and it is often painful and disorienting. Many of us choose to keep running.
Some of them left me. Some got left behind. Some, not many, died.
When many people describe Doctor Who, they describe a show about aliens, time traveling, danger, and adventure. A person who is feeling a bit more reflective might also explain that the show is about change-in fact the main character-the Doctor physically changes into a new actor every few years. Companions leave, get left, or die and new ones come a long, willing to journey and risk their lives with the Doctor. But every change necessitates a goodbye.
In the show, like in real life, goodbyes are not always permanent. For example, a companion left behind in one season might make an appearance, however, brief in another one. Yet, even if a companion makes a reappearance, one still faces the nagging acknowledgement that things are not quite the same.
I imagine the Doctor’s reaction is similar to seeing an old best friend I had not seen or talked to in years. It is great to see this person, but she has changed, and I have changed. The time we shared when we were connected at the hip, when we talked every day, and saw each other every few days is long gone. The person I see, is not the person I knew so intimately, though of course, unless she has undergone a radical personality change, traces of the person I used to know still exist. She might even look the same. The same goes for me. In the years since we last meant I have changed-some changes are relatively minor others more profound. The interaction is slightly awkward, we remember how close we used to be, we remember the good times, but we have both moved on. We might even promise to keep in contact, with the hope of perhaps becoming best friends again, but, at least in my experience, that rarely happens. And sometimes we know, even as we exchange numbers and add each other on facebook, that we might talk every now and then, but we will not keep in deep sustained contact. Perhaps we don’t really want to keep in touch. Too much has changed.
In the episode, “school reunion” the Doctor is extremely happy to see Sarah Jane, who he instantly recognizes though she has aged since they have last seen. She of course does not immediately recognize him since his physical appearance as well as aspects of his personality have changed. Yet as happy as she is to see him, she is also extremely hurt. She had always thought he would return for her.
Sarah Jane: Did I do something wrong? ‘Cause you never came back for me. You just dumped me.
The Doctor: Oh you didn’t need me. You were getting on with your life.
Sarah Jane: You were my life. You know what the most difficult thing was? Coping with what happens next. No, with what doesn’t happen next. You took me to the furthest reaches of the galaxy, you showed me supernovas, intergalactic battles, and then you just dropped me back on earth. How could anything compare to that.
The Doctor: All those things you saw, you want me to apologize for that?
Sarah Jane: No! But we get a taste of that splendor and then we have to go back.
Rose of course, is hit with the realization that there were many other companions before her, people he traveled with, cared about, and once they part ways with the Doctor, are never mentioned again.
Rose: How many of us have been traveling with you?
Doctor: Does it matter?
Rose: Yeah it does, if I’m just the latest in a long line.
Doctor: As opposed to what?
Rose: I thought you and me were, I obviously got it wrong. I’ve been the year five billion, right, but this? Now this is really seeing the future. You just leave us behind. Is that what you are going to do to me?
Doctor: No. Not you.
Rose: But Sarah Jane? You were that close to her once, and now you never even mention her. Why not?
Doctor: I don’t age. I regenerate. You whither and die…you can spend the rest of your life with me, but I can’t spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on., Alone…
The Doctor hates saying goodbye. Goodbyes require a measure of reflection on the past and acknowledgement that it is over. And, especially when it comes to relationships, it might be easier for us just run away without saying goodbye. But the ones we leave behind they are often left wondering why and what went wrong. Why couldn’t they salvage the relationship? Why did they get left behind?
In Sarah Jane’s case, she forced the Doctor to finally say goodbye to her. Although it would not be the last time they met, she had no way of knowing that. She needed him to say goodbye, to stop pretending, to pause from his running. And he does. He says goodbye to his Sarah Jane.
Goodbyes not only signify an end to the past, but also to any number of possible futures. So many people in the show had planned to travel with the Doctor for the rest of their natural lives, and the Doctor may have even allowed that to happen, even with knowing that they would eventually go old and die. Rose, Donna, the Ponds, loved the Doctor and were loved by him.
DONNA: I was going to be with you forever.
DOCTOR: I know.
DONNA: The rest of my life, travelling in the Tardis. The Doctor Donna. No. Oh my god. I can’t go back. Don’t make me go back. Doctor, please, please don’t make me go back.
DOCTOR: Donna. Oh, Donna Noble. I am so sorry. But we had the best of times.
DOCTOR: The best. Goodbye.
We make plans for the future with our loved ones, fully expecting them to be a part of our future journeys but life gets in the way. Death snatches them away from us, or they get sick, or they move on. Any myriad numbers of circumstances seem to conspire together to take them away from us and nullifying the future we so desperately wanted. No one knows that better than the Doctor. He hates saying goodbyes, but sometimes by avoiding goodbyes we are hindering our ability (as well as the abilities of those left behind) to move forward.
Goodbyes hurt, especially goodbyes forced on us by others or by circumstances. Many of us would like to avoid goodbyes or endings of any sort, but the reality is that endings are a part of life. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to have the courage to stop running and to say goodbye.
Matt Smith leaving Doctor Who
I had the idea for this post long before Matt Smith announced he was leaving, “Doctor Who.” Like many in the fandom I was under the impression that he would stay for another season, so although I knew that he would eventually leave, I didn’t expect it would be now. Many people, especially those not part of the fandom cannot understand why so many people are sad and upset. The Doctor is a fictional character, and Matt Smith is still alive and we well hopefully be able to see him in other successful projects. But people take their aversion and hatred of saying goodbye with them to the fictional realm, even in shows where goodbyes are common place. The Doctor hates saying goodbye, as do many fans.
Matt Smith gave us a Doctor who was funny, bumbling, quirky yet who could also be serious. He laughed and could joke around, but such antics covered a deeper pain. Many of us grew attached to his version of the Doctor. We wish Matt Smith all the best, but we will miss his version of the Doctor, even while looking forward to the 12th.
“I miss him like someone I know. It`s a strange feeling to wake up from a fantasy and realize that an imagined person left a foot print on your heart as real as any person you`ve ever met.”
In the next post, I will examine death as a goodbye as well as how to go about cultivating what I refer to do as a “theology of goodbye” and how the show can aid in that quest.