Goodbyes

by Alison Stedman
For me, this year has been marked by farewells.

When an earthquake struck my city like a sledgehammer on February 22, I said goodbye to life as I knew it. We had made it through one major earthquake already, and we thought that was bad, but suddenly the city we called home crumbled around us and the lives of people we loved were snuffed out.

Life is very different now for many people in the city of Christchurch and will be for some time. We live in a state of constant vigilance, we learn to distinguish the rumble of an earthquake from the rumble of a truck passing, we assess any building that we enter for risk, and some of us fall into a state of nervous collapse at the merest quiver of the earth beneath us. Farewell, peace of mind.

Parts of the city are shut off to us, have disappeared, or are so shaken that they appear entirely different. One of our authors in this issue of Halfway Down the Stairs, Rebecca Burns, struck a chord that really resonated with me when she wrote, ‘How does he know from which piece of land he sprung when all markers, all monuments to the life he felt in his blood, have been erased? The whole town gone, rubbed clean from the earth, leaving only grooves, broken bricks and the heartbreak of a rusted playground.’  The situation she describes is more dramatic, but it feels real for many residents of Christchurch.

It is strange, though, that once you learn to live with this you notice that farewells are not simple. For one thing, I got to a point at which I realised that everything was not, in fact, lost. It was eye-opening, for example, to watch that tsunami sweeping into north-east Japan and to understand that things could have been much worse here.  Then there was the gradual realisation that buildings could fall down but a city still remains. So we said goodbye to the city we knew, and yet it did not disappear entirely.

For another thing, there is an aspect to this farewell that opens up possibilities. Space that was filled is now empty; buildings that were complete now have to be rebuilt, and the question is how?  What will the city look like in the future?  It’s sad to say goodbye to the old, but it can be exciting to consider the new.

Other farewells this year have come to me more naturally, as rites of passage, as I move on from one stage of life into the next.  And again the farewell becomes something more complex, as I enjoy the benefits of my new phase of life, but as I discover that the old phase had some pleasures I had just not appreciated.  It’s a bittersweet discovery I suspect we all inherit at some stage or another.

It’s a rewarding experience, then, to pay attention to the farewells we make. Often they are not just goodbyes but also beginnings. They are complex, living, breathing things – just like the people who make them – and we hope that in this issue of Halfway Down the Stairs we have provided you with a satisfying and diverse exploration of the theme of farewell.

Thanks to all our contributing authors for pleasing and surprising us, and thanks as well to those who submit to this e-zine for making our decisions difficult.  Thanks also to you for reading – let us know if you like what you see and drop us a line at inquiries@halfwaydownthestairs.net. Our next theme will be ‘Mystery’, and we look forward to receiving your submissions. You can keep informed of all of our deadlines, publication dates, and other news by visiting our Facebook page or following us on Twitter.
Alison Stedman is a senior editor at Halfway Down the Stairs. For staff biographies, click here.

© 2011, Alison Stedman