This time of year is always bittersweet for me, never more than right now as Grace prepares to leave for college. I took 11 boxes of LEGOs to their nursery school yesterday, and being in the building brought back such vivid memories. It was – and is – a truly magical place where Grace and Whit were privileged to begin their school days. I cannot say enough wonderful things about Cambridge Ellis School and we were lucky to be parents there for 5 years (3 for Grace, 2 for Whit).
Being there yesterday thrust me right into the whitewater of memory, where then and now collapsed, where the past feels animate, where I can’t believe how much time has passed. This happens to me a lot, and this time of year particularly. I’ve written about it before – about the word commencement, about how as the world flowers we wind down school years, about the paradox that’s contained in the word “commencement.” We end and begin, at the same time. When children – or ourselves – graduate, yes. But also every day. The words I wrote years ago, which all still resonate, are below.
Perhaps I’m particularly oriented this way right now because of having spent weeks helping Mum pack up from the house she and my father shared for 30 years. Walking into that house is like walking into the past and I’ve spent almost a month marinating in those memories, in old photos, laughing and crying. Photo above is one I had never seen but I found in the last few weeks. There’s an undeniable ending as Mum sells the house, but a beginning too: her new life, hopefully less encumbered, more comfortable, ready to move forward. I’m happy for her.
Four years ago, both of our children graduated on the same day. From 6th and 8th grade respectively, from the school where they had both started as 4 year olds. All four of our parents were there. It was an emotional day, one of farewell and celebration. I can’t help but remember it now, as we careen towards Grace’s graduation from high school (which, thankfully, we can attend in person!). Yesterday and a lifetime ago. As all experiences in life seem to feel. As I get older, the weight of memory is heavier, which is a blessing – so much joy – and a challenge – so many things to mourn – at the same time.
Endings and beginnings. Here we go.
Years ago I described the fleeting nature of time as the black hole around which my whole life circles, the wound that is at the center of all my writing, all my feeling, all my living. Certainly that seems to be borne out by what it is I write, over and over again. At the very midpoint of the year, the sunniest, longest days, I find myself battling an encroaching sorrow, an irrefutable sense of farewell. The proof is in my archives.
The world bursts into riotous bloom, almost as though it is showing off its fecundity. The days are swollen and beautiful, the air soft, the flowering trees spectacular. The children gleefully wear shorts to school, the sidewalks are dusted with pollen and petals, and we round the curve of another year. We start counting down school days, we say goodbye to beloved babysitters who are graduating from college, and I find myself blinking back tears.
Every year, I’m pulled into the whitewater between beginnings and endings that defines this season. I can barely breathe.
It’s all captured in the event that so many of us attend, year after year, at this time: commencement. It was my own commencements that marked this season, for years: from grade school, high school, college, graduate school. And then there was a time when, though I wasn’t personally attending commencements, I felt their presence, sensed the ebb and flow of the school year. It seems that my spirit and the very blood in my veins will always throb to the cadence of the school year. And now it is my children who commence, who close a year and begin another, wearing too-long hair and legs, vaguely tentative smiles, and white.
Commencement. Isn’t this word simply a more elegant way of describing what might be the central preoccupation of my life? You end and you begin, on the very same day. You let go of something and while that I-am-falling feeling never goes away, you trust that you’ll land. And you do, on the doorstep of another beginning, a new phase, the next thing.
No matter how many times I’m caught from the freefall of farewell by a new beginning, though, I still feel the loss. As much as my head understands that endings are required for them to be beginnings, my heart mourns what is ending. That a seam of sorrow runs through my every experience is undeniable; it may sound depressing, but I genuinely don’t experience it that way. It is just part of how I’m wired, and it’s never closer to the surface than right now, as this school year winds down, as we celebrate the beginning that’s wrapped in the end, as we commence.