Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is enthralled by exits: long farewells, quick goodbyes, sudden endings, the ordinary and the extraordinary. There’s a relationship, she attests, between small goodbyes and our ability “to master and mark the larger farewells.” In “Exit: The Endings That Set Us Free” (Sarah Crichton Books, $26.00), her tenth book, she explores the ways we leave one thing and move on to the next; how we anticipate, define and reflect on our departures; our epiphanies that something is over and done with.
Lawrence-Lightfoot, a sociologist and a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has interviewed more than a dozen women and men in states of major change, and she paints their portraits with sympathy and insight: a gay man who finds home and wholeness after coming out; a 16-year-old boy forced to leave Iran in the midst of the violent civil war; a Catholic priest who leaves the church he has always been devoted to, the life he has loved, and the work that has been deeply fulfilling; an anthropologist who carefully stages her departure from the “field” after four years of research and many more.
“Exit” explores the ideas of home and voice, freedom and yearning, wounds and grace — and the concept of developing the habit of small goodbyes and everyday transitions. Too often, Lawrence-Lightfoot believes, we exalt new beginnings at the expense of learning from our goodbyes. “Exit” finds wisdom and perspective in the possibility of moving on and marks the start of a new conversation, to help readers discover how to make exits with purpose and dignity. In this way, “Exit” moves the idea of endings from the shadows to the light, “witnessing the ways in which exits can become moments for listening, storytelling, imagining and creating choices that were unimaginable before.”