I do not like endings. I do not like finales. It is probably why I don’t watch the Oscars or stay awake until the last votes are counted on election night. I much prefer those hours and days before the endings, days that are thick with anticipation and ripening possibilities. Even as a kid, I savored the days leading up to Christmas or my birthday, waiting and wondering like Schrödinger with his cat. I didn’t peak or shake any boxes. I knew that when the actual day came, and the gifts were opened, it would all be over. It isn’t even about gifts really. I never liked the last day of school or the finish line in a race or the last page of a good book. All of those signal the end and knowing how it is going to turn out. Sure, the end was always followed by something new, but I grieved those fleeting moments slipping into my history. After a year of planning for a wedding, in one day it was all over. Though that ending was the beginning of decades of adventures in marriage, I am never going to have those precious moments again. In our checklist world, our accomplishment accumulation culture, it is tempting to be so focused on the end that we forget to enjoy the journey. We forget to savor each of the singular, irreplaceable moments that happen on the way to the end.
New Year’s Eve always hits me as one of the biggest of endings – the end of an entire year. On December 31st, I know how it turned out. Though it is followed by New Year’s Day and the chance to get on the roller coaster again, I am sad to see the year end. Frankly, none more than this year. As the countdown begins and the ball starts to drop in Times Square, it will herald in a year that will surely have more endings and beginnings than most. In the coming year, our only daughter will graduate. In the fall, we will help her pack and drive her across the mountains where she will go to college. As with any child, she has been the center of our world for 18 years. In that time, I am not proud to say, there were a few moments I wished away. Carrying a diaper bag comes to mind. I know I wished life would fast forward through potty training. At the time, I happily would have skipped teaching her second-grade math the year she went into the Highly Capable program. I remember praying for an end to the “no” years. Now, as she talks about decorating her dorm room and finding a compatible roommate, I am remembering each of those moments as the gift that they were – the giggles and the worries, the hugs and the tears, the medals and the bruises. At the risk of sounding maudlin, the truth is that things will change around here in her absence. Her dog will no doubt expect the same welcome at the foot of our bed that she has become accustom to. We will hear about her adventures long distance which will undoubtedly mute her emphatic descriptions and quick wit. We will have more time alone together. We will pick up old hobbies or start new ones. That is exactly what is supposed to happen. Children grow up, become independent and go out into the world. It is the perfect ending and beginning all at once.
So, am I going to get rid of all my checklists? Abandon goal setting? Not likely. However, I am going to commit to the journey as deeply as I commit to the accomplishment in this coming year of endings and beginnings.
- I will be present every day. I am not getting any of these moments back.
- I will see things not as ending but as stops along the way in a greater journey. Changing my perspective changes everything.
- I will say what needs to be said.
- I will let go and accept the changes that will inevitably come. I know that I suffer more by wishing things could be different than from the change itself.
I selected this photograph, which I took outside of Concrete, WA in late winter, because it reminds me of that tipping point between the end of winter and the beginning of spring when the forest is still quite dormant but the sun is beginning to climb in the sky.
Dawn in Concrete
(1/500 sec., f/11, 20 mm, 360 ISO)