Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or a lifetime, is certain for those who are friends.
—Richard Bach, author
It’s hard to image that this is the last column I will write to you during our 144th Assembly. It seems like just yesterday I was sharing the joy with family, friends and Chautauquans of being called to serve as Chautauqua’s 18th President, and, now, I am no longer “the new guy.” This weekend I will have the privilege of again addressing you during our historic and storied tradition of Three Taps of the Gavel.
I recently received an email from a Chautauquan reflecting on this season and reminding me of the incredible sadness that so many feel, a sense of foreboding that the closing Three Taps marks the conclusion of another season here on these sacred grounds and in this hallowed grove.
As each day of Week Nine slips by, I understand more clearly what “veterans” of Chautauqua feel. I have shared with many of you a retelling about arriving here in mid-December, moving into the President’s Cottage to a community of homes with wrapped porches, asleep under a fresh blanket of snow, hibernating, in a sense, in anticipation of the summer renaissance. It was with great anticipation that I got to welcome you back, and now, like all things, the cycle of life will include a farewell to those who do not call Chautauqua home year-round.
But my sadness is tempered with the great optimism and hope of the ways that each of you showed up here this summer — either for a day or an entire season, whether in person or online. We came from many places to reclaim these grounds as a powerful convening force. We wrestled with ideas, we delighted in artistic expression, we learned through classes, we prayed together (through expressions of many faiths or simply participated in an expression of communion, even if we identify as one of the growing “nones”), and we drank in all the rich beauty of this corner of western New York state. We practiced and modeled a form of civil dialogue, even if some disliked the now much-debated adjective of “muscular.” And we delighted knowing we could debate even that, because at Chautauqua, words and actions matter, and coming to a greater understanding of both is critical to the process.
We celebrated the opening of a new Amp, the cultural heart of our community. We acknowledged that some of our colleagues and friends would spend their last season here, and we met some new faces that would inform and breathe life into the 145th Assembly come June 2018. And through it all, we did it as an expression of our greatest strength: as a community comprising young and old, first-timers and “lifers,” people from nearby and from faraway places, all seeking and searching for a more meaningful encounter than existed before we assembled in a ritual as old as the Institution itself.
A farewell has always been necessary before we can meet again. This has been our rhythm, our way of life since our founding. And while I hope to lessen the amount of time between those farewells as part of taking Chautauqua out into the world, please don’t be dismayed at this goodbye, for certainly, after moments or a lifetime, I feel blessed to now call you friends.
May God, expressed by many names and through many traditions, bless each of you until we are reunited.