The world is in riotous bloom. We are reminded at every turn of beginnings, fecundity, growth. The days are long and warm, and summer glints on the horizon, and everywhere I look there are bare legs and smiles. This is the height of spring: dizzy, jubilant, glorious.
But I can’t stop experiencing lasts. In the past couple of weeks, I have attended my last Lower School spring concert, performed my last tooth fairy duties for my older child, watched our household’s last World’s Fair poster board come together. Last, last, last. Time is whipping by so fast I can barely breathe.
Last week, I drove by a large tent at Boston University, which I assume is for graduation, and I think of how the way that the reunions tents going up at Princeton was a visceral harbinger of the end of year. I used to watch them putting up fences and tents with a tangible sense of loss: those wooden and canvas structures were a threshold between now and then, between the present and the future, and I was forced across it. The peaks of white canvas tents will always spell the ending of something to me. Even as they mark the biggest beginning of all, that of commencement.
I’ve written about commencement a lot before. Living in a university town, this time of year, it’s impossible to avoid. In 2013 I asked if it was just another word for what might be the “central preoccupation of my life.” The ways that endings and beginnings are wound around each other, inextricable, enriching one another even as they seem opposed, opposite: this is one of the themes I return to again and again, there’s no question about that.
The other night, Grace lost her last tooth. Her last baby tooth. She’s over 13.5, so this is not a last that should surprise me, and she’s late to lose it. But still. Still. I went in before bed to take the tooth and to put tooth fairy money under her pillow, and she woke up as I did so. Her eyes popped open and she whispered, “What are you doing?”
“Just saying goodnight,” I said quickly, holding the pouch with her tooth that I’d taken from under her pillow but not yet opened down by the floor on which I was kneeling. A slow grin spread across her face.
“You sure about that?” she asked with a sly smile. I burst out laughing. I know she doesn’t believe in the tooth fairy. She hasn’t for years. This humorous young woman makes me laugh so much. I adore her. Do I miss the much younger girl, the small child who slept, under whose pillow I slid the first couple of tooth fairy dollars? Of course I do. But I don’t want to go back: I love right now.
Kunitz’s feast of losses, which I’ve also written about ad nauseum, runs through my head at this time of year. Grace doesn’t have any more baby teeth. Whit doesn’t have any more spring concerts. His class sang sang several songs, but my favorite was Seasons of Love, from Rent, which I have long loved (and have often thought about writing about!).
We will head to Princeton at the end of next week to celebrate my 20th reunion (where we will take advantage of those great fences and tents whose arrival marked the end of my undergraduate year). It is my first reunion in my life where my grandfather won’t be there. I didn’t know the reunion in 2011, when I walked with him, was the last.
There is so much beauty and so much loss. There is laughter in the dark with my teenage daughter just an hour after holding her last baby tooth in my hand. There are tears in the lower school gym as my son, now the Big Kid on the stage, dances to Soul Man and then to a song from Rent which reminds me of college. There is aggravation that the Ecuador presentation doesn’t seem ready, and in the wake of that irritation, I feel simultaneously thankful that Jesus this is the last time and mad at myself for not fully appreciating this, the last time I’ll hear a child practice their 5th grade presentation.
Still, then tinges now, and no matter what I do, I can’t run away from the shadow of loss the haunts every single moment of this life. The magnolias bloom but even as my head spins with their gorgeous beauty I know how transient it is, and preemptively mourn the brown puddles they’ll be on the sidewalk in a matter of days.
Teeth, concerts, presentations. Commencement, graduation gowns, canvas tents. My friends, my grandfather, my children. It’s all one big, glorious swirl, this life, alleluia and farewell, loss and beginning, love and tears. Every single day.
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