Three days in a row mentioning the same song, but I couldn’t resist.
Every time we say goodbye, I die a little,
Every time we say goodbye, I wonder why a little,
Why the God above me, who must be in the know.
Thinks so little of me, He allows you to go.
When you’re near, there’s such an air of spring about it,
I can hear a lark somewhere, begin to sing about it,
There’s no love song finer, but how strange the change from major to
Every time we say goodbye.
- Every time We Say Goodbye by Cole Porter
My wife and I have never thought about divorce. We’ve had our arguments, but divorce has never come to the forefront of our minds. Yet, we have physically separated many times, usually due to my work. This Cole Porter song could have been our anthem.
We’d been married about 12 years before we had celebrated three wedding anniversaries together. The first was on a weekend and we went out for lunch. We should have done more. We didn’t realize that would be the last for a while. Number 2, I was at home, but I was working strike duty at the chemical plant where I worked. The guys brought in from out of town were considered the scabs. I was one of the local engineers trying to do my job until I left for the Army. The ‘celebration’ after a twelve hour day was a home cooked meal and then bed. Seven 12-hour days per week got old, fast. Numbers 3 and 4, I was on field training in the military. When your primary mission is construction, they schedule military maneuvers during the winter. Aren’t I lucky? Number 5, this one was a blur, but I was out of town for something. My wife and I looked at each other, and neither of us asked the question, ‘Why today of all days?’ At that time, I had a desk job. Number 6 was spent looking for a civilian job after the Army. Numbers 7, 8, and 9 were three of the five business trips over those first three years of civilian life. Get where this is going? Each time that I left, my wife and I both died, a little.
During the constant scheduling of business trips during our anniversary, I did a lot of praying about how I never went on such trips except during our anniversary. On our 23rd anniversary, I had been in India for three weeks. My wife and I had laughed about another missed anniversary before I left. What we had no way of knowing was that my wife would not heard my voice for three weeks. There was no long distance phone service at the hotel and the plant phones were out-of-order except for the phone in our German partner company’s office. They were building the equipment upstream and downstream of our equipment. We were never allowed to use their phone except for business emergencies. At this point, I had concluded classroom training, and I was chief liaison between the customer and the commissioning team, allowing the team to get the work done while I was fielding all of the customer questions and complaints. I worked 16 hour days, seven days per week. On our anniversary, at a time when my wife should have just been waking up, the German field manager walked into the control room where I was working late one evening. He told me that I was needed for a meeting in his office. I figured that the customer had issues that needed to be discussed. When we got back to his office, the manager started yelling at his employees. It had been nearly twenty years since my days in Germany, but my rusty meager German language skills picked up, “Hurry! Out! Out! Our comrade needs alone time with his wife.” He held up a hand, signaling five minutes. After all, the phone call was going to cost his company more than I would be paid for a couple of hours of work.
After a few minutes, the phone call went through. After the shrill cry of excitement, my wife said, “I’m fine, but I’m cold. I wish you were here to shovel the snow. It’s in the 20s and 30s here. What is the temperature where you are?’
I thought of the hot, dry winter days in India and the works that swept the dust each morning. I started to laugh. My reply was, “Oh, it’s in the 20s and 30s here, too.” (Celsius, that is.) She got the joke. We laughed. We cried, and then our five minutes were up. Out of about 10-12 Americans on the job site for over a month, I was the only one who got to phone home. I never learned who told the German manager that it was our anniversary. I just thanked the entire team, and the German team as well.
When my wife reminisces about our time in Europe together (when I was in the Army), she remembers the times that I disappeared for a day, two days, or a week without being able to say where I was going or when I would be back. I simply didn’t come home. The week-long trip was semi-planned. She knew I was leaving within the next week or two and would be gone for a few days. She had to know that much to keep her from asking questions that could not be answered. I couldn’t say more. Then, the phone rang at 3:00am. The code word for a basic NATO readiness exercise was given (routine stuff), plus the instructions of ‘bring your duffle bag.’ That was it, nothing more. What I had thought when I got the call was that the usual NATO readiness tests lasted only a few hours. Why were they doing one of those tests when this other thing was coming up any day? So, I didn’t give my wife any warning that this could be the “thing we couldn’t talk about.” I kissed her good-bye. She wasn’t really awake. I walked back through the door about eight days later.
The second line of the song comes to mind, “I wonder why, a little?” All of those unscheduled war games or secret missions. She still doesn’t know why.
The saying is that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Try it as many times as my wife and I have, and you can take absence and shove it. Each time that we had to part, I had a silent prayer, “God, you are sovereign, but is there a better way to make a living?”
The problem that many of us have, maybe all of us for brief (or longer) periods, is that we say good-bye to God, in a way. We sin. We decide that we are going to put ourselves first, just this once (then again …). The Devil can even convince us that we do it sometimes in righteous indignation, but it is really us blowing off steam to relieve the stress in our lives. What stress? The stress from doing the worrying that Jesus told us not to do in the first place.
So tonight before you go to bed, kiss your spouse (if there is one) and live-in children (if there are any). Call the loved-ones that are away from home. And spend some quality time with your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. “Cause every time we say good-bye, we die … a little.”