A few years back the Muskegon Chronicle ran a list of global traditions to welcome in the New Year. The Dutch burn bonfires of Christmas trees to purge the old and welcome the new. The Spanish eat 12 grapes at midnight to secure 12 happy months in the new coming year. In Japan “forget-the-year” parties are held to bid farewell to the problems and concerns of the past year and prepare for a new beginning.
I don’t like any of it! Before the year even ends it sounds like people are already poised to scrub it off like soap scum from the shower tiles of our life and rinse it down the drain. After all, a new year is right there knocking at the door, even before we’ve had a chance to say goodbye to the year we have just had an incredibly intimate relationship with.
I Miss Stephen Colbert!
When I was a kid I hated endings. Always have. In fact I remember sitting in the movie theater as a young kid and hating it when the movie started because I knew that meant it would be soon be over.
I hated it when our family moved when I was in first grade.
I hated it when my gerbil died even though I had stopped playing with it a year before.
I hated it when school would let out for summer.
I hated it when a friend had to go home.
I hated endings – all kinds of endings.
And the fact is, I still do.
This has been a traumatic month for me. First, Charlie from the Newsroom died. Then Stephen Colbert went off the air. I’m not sure how much more of this I can take!
And you know what else? I LOVE the fact that I hate endings. Even when I cause the thing to end. Even when I can hardly stand waiting for the new thing to begin – I still hate the ending. And I love hating it.
I love the fact that summer camp for the kids at Stony Lake can end after a week and (much to my children’s embarrassment) I’m the one wiping the tears from my cheek.
I love the fact that when I’m on an airplane flying home from China I want to cry.
I love the fact that the end of a job or a relationship or the day can fill me with an overwhelming sense of loss and pain – even when I know things will be so much better, even when the thing ending needs to end.
A Time for Mourning
Keep in mind I didn’t say I love endings – I hate them. But I think I love hating endings because it means that I embrace the idea that within each ending is a death – and all death deserves respect and at least a moment of mourning. An acknowledgement that for better or for worse something has happened. And now that something will cease. And that something made a difference – some kind of difference – it mattered, it had weight, it was real, it was alive.
And so I prefer to experience endings rather than jumping over them or bypassing them on the way to something new.
I didn’t always feel this way. For most of my life I was the cut-off queen. When I was hurt the best possible thing I thought I could do was to slice the offending party cleanly out of my life, move quickly forward and never – but never – look back. Skipping over the ending and going right to the next thing also allowed me to escape the pain that comes with acknowledging that what I did also contributed to the ending and that some of my own choices also hurt other people.
But you can never fully journey forward if you haven’t dealt with the past. So I’ve spent the last couple of years going back to the endings, exploring them, trying to understand them, savoring their bitterness and learning from them something more about the people in my life – and much more about me.
Healing Old Wounds By Facing Them
When I was 20 years old, something terribly important to me ended. It was my first marriage. I was filled with deep pain and anguish for this impossible decision and the impossible circumstances I was living in. And I cut him off. I was afraid and my fear found me running away as fast and as far as my mind would let me. On the rare occasion when I would see him in public, my heart would beat convulsively in my chest and I would flee. I never wanted to see him again.
But then one night as I sat in Barnes and Noble doing some work, he appeared. And my heart started pounding and I – well I asked myself how I wanted to react to this and why after all this time I would be afraid. And I nodded to him. And when he came over I asked if he would like to have a cup of coffee with me. And we visited for 2 hours.
It was the most incredible 2 hours. It was a time of forgiveness. It was a time of healing. And for me it was something more than that. It was a witness to my past. It was affirmation that my experience was real and – therefore – I am real. For there are no endings that don’t shape us or inform us or affect us in some way.
It occurs to me now that I was much more afraid than even I had understood. Because not only did I fear this man, but I feared acknowledging the role I played in the hurt we both suffered. I wanted a quick jump from the way things were to a place where they were better without needing to acknowledge the genuine pain of the ending itself.
I’ve been flooded with a lot of memories since then. No, that’s not the right word. I have invited the memories to wash over me since then. Some are really good, some are really bad, but all of them now appear to me to be somehow beautiful. It is liberating to be able to hold all of these memories and see how they have helped to shape me into who I have become today – and how they have also helped to shaped the life of this man. And the wonder is that we have both changed so much while at the same time we have both been shaped by the same memories.
A Neverending Story
So after my chance encounter with the past I am beginning to wonder if maybe there are no endings at all. Oh things change. Loss is very real and when we experience a loss, things are never the same again. But I’m thinking that maybe nothing ever really ends unless we manage somehow to no longer carry its influence within us.
Every end is a new beginning
But every beginning also requires an end.
In the midst of death comes new life. There is rebirth. But it never comes through avoiding the past. The past must be dealt with first, and then we can move into new life. A fresh start always begins by dealing with the past. After that, healing can take place.
There is something in every experience that shapes us, our present thought and our future action, long after its end. And in that respect there is no ending. There is only an amazing unfolding of events that have brought us each to this very moment. Who you are, who you are with, why you are here has all come about in this unfolding, in the ebb and flow of the tides that move and shape our lives.
Happy New Year and Namaste!