Exit: The Endings That Set Us Free
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The wisdom of saying goodbye
In this wise and provocative book, the renowned sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot trains her lens on the myriad exits we make in our lives: exits big and small, extraordinary and ordinary, quick and protracted, painful and liberating.
Exits are ubiquitous. Part of the historical narrative of our country, they mark the physical landscapes we inhabit; they're braided into the arc of our individual development, laced into our intergenerational relationships, shaped by economic crisis, global mobility, and technological innovations. But we tend to ignore them, often seeing them as signs of failure.
For two years Lawrence-Lightfoot traveled around the country listening to people tell their stories of leaving, witnessing rituals of goodbye, and producing the penetrating portraits that have become her signature. A gay man who finds home and wholeness after coming out of the closet; a sixteen-year-old-boy forced to leave Iran in the midst of a violent civil war; a Catholic priest who leaves the church; an anthropologist who carefully stages her departure from the field after years of research; and many more. Lawrence-Lightfoot shares their stories with sympathy and insight, finding the universal patterns that reframe our exit narratives.
Exit finds wisdom in the possibility of moving on. It marks the start of a new conversation: a chance to discover how to make our exits with dignity and grace.
DIRECTOR written under his name, and a bag of food to eat at his desk, as he would be too busy to leave the office for lunch. Having offered the gifts, Theresa left the meeting, went back to her office, cleared out all her stuff, and loaded it into boxes. “My whole desk area was naked,” she says, as if this felt as if she were stripping the clothes off of her body. The whole time she was packing and hauling the boxes—denuding the space she had inhabited for twenty-five years—she was trying to
she knew to be the culprits, he was reluctant, then dismissive. “You should have seen how fast he retreated when he realized how thick all of this was … and which parents were involved. They were the blue bloods, and he was not going to approach them.” Her voice oozes cynicism. “Very quickly that principal made the political choice not to confront them. “It was a Thursday afternoon, on a very cold, blustering day in January,” Neda begins, shuddering with memories of the frigid weather and the
leave Iran in the midst of the violent civil war; of a young boy who, after years of enduring terrifying bullying in school, finally discovered the exit that would set him free; of a woman who, after twenty-five years of building and nurturing a small nonprofit, decided it was time to leave, only to discover the loss, disorientation, and emptiness that followed; of a Catholic priest who—after prolonged deliberation and painful ambivalence—leaves the church he has always been devoted to, the life
very productive. “She did such great work,” recalls Linda admiringly. As they approached the end of her therapy and together anticipated its termination, things began to fall into place in Cecelia’s life. “She presented her research at a professional conference and this time took full credit for it (in the past she had always taken a backseat and been overly deferential to her colleagues); she managed to get the job she really wanted; she learned to express her thoughts and feelings more
too narcissistic, so we decided on “For the Beauty of the Earth.” A second example: “I love Rudyard Kipling and wanted to read one of his poems, but the children vetoed that idea, so we scratched that.” By far the hardest decision for Gwen was deciding on whether Tom would be cremated. Amazingly enough, until the last couple of months they had not discussed a burial plan, nor had they selected a burial site. Without much discussion they chose a plot at Green Hill Cemetery—they had always loved