closing ceremonies of Grace’s Beginner year, 2008
closing ceremonies of Whit’s Beginner year, 2010
I’m not sure if it’s because I live in a college town, or if it’s a relic of my many years in educational institutions myself, but there’s something essential in my soul that still beats on academic time. I feel the end of something as profoundly at the end of the school year as I do at New Year’s. This time of year, when people swarm my neighborhood in academic robes and caps and when I keep reading graduation speeches, I feel the grip of some inchoate sorrow that feels as incongruous as the world is bursting into riotous bloom around me as it is undeniable, unavoidable.
The truth is, right now, I feel sad. Today is the end of something. As I wrote last year, “no matter how many times I’m caught from the freefall of farewell by a new beginning, I still feel the loss.” Today our children celebrate their closing ceremonies, Grace and Whit moving from fifth and third grade respectively. There’s excitement – the summer lies ahead, with beaches and camps and later bedtimes and lots and lots of joy – but there’s an undeniable sorrow, too. At least for me. Something that will never be again is over. I will never again sit in my car at the corner and watch my third and fifth grader walk through the school gates, big backpacks bobbing on their backs. All year long, watching them go gives me a lump in my throat and a swell in my chest, but that feeling escalates as we near the end of the year.
I drive through Harvard Square and notice that they’ve begun erecting the tents for graduation, and this always reminds me of the sharp ache I used to feel when they started putting up fences and tents for reunions at Princeton. The fences marked off each major reunion’s location, but they also delineated the end of another year. Still, to this day, I remember the tears that used to spring to my eyes. And the same tears came, unbidden, as I watched Harvard transforming itself to celebrate another commencement. Today we do the same at Grace and Whit’s school.
I feel out of step with the celebration in the air today and this time of year, the overwhelming, enthusiastic rush towards summer I sense all around me. Hold back! Wait! I say silently, wanting another day to dwell in this, here, now. I’m always keenly aware of life’s accumulating farewells, but I think this time of year is when I feel them most acutely. Kunitz’s feast of losses seep into my waking and my sleeping. Today, I’ll blink back tears as I watch my 3rd and 5th grade days come to an end, as I marvel at this glittering life, turning so quickly I can barely keep up.
And so we go on, round and round and round in the circle game. Captive on a carousel of time. Another end and beginning twined together. Life itself is a series of commencements, isn’t it? Every day, we commence.
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