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.
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