Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday's Reflection: Endings

I have a hard time with endings. 

With September's arrival comes the ending of summer. True, summer is not my favorite season and true, I love fall much more than summer, but still, the whole idea of ending something in order to move on is not so appealing. 

At least the change from one season to another tends to be gradual--first you notice a tree on the block beginning to change colors, but the leaves have not yet fallen and then you notice the gathering of flocks of geese and cranes practicing their "we're out of here" lift off. For the moment, however, you still hear them in the morning as you take your morning walk. Oh, and on that morning walk, you wear a hoodie or sweater, but as the day progresses towards noon you can shed the extra garment. Until one day there are more leaves on the ground than on the tree, and you hear the absence of cranes calling to one another, and you need that sweater all day. Summer has ended, you say. 

I expect a lot from endings, especially in books and movies. I want that satisfactory sigh of understanding and completion, but I notice frequently in contemporary fiction how often my eyebrow lifts as I read the last page. What? Really? Recently, I saw the new Woody Allen movie, Blue Jasmine, and --spoiler alert--there is no real ending. It just stops, and the surprise and even displeasure in the audience was audible. 

I've long felt that an ending in a novel is unsatisfactory because it has not been edited as much as the beginning or even the middle of the book. The author rereads and reworks the beginning and middle sections far more often than the ending, unless the ending is written first. Repetitive editing. Therefore, the ending can feel scraggly or undercooked. 

In life, however, we only have one shot at the ending. One per customer. There is no way to say, "Let me try that again. I'll do it better this time." 

I Need to Practice Endings
I tend to sag in the middle of things. 

Let's say I'm at a dinner party and for the most part have been enjoying the company and the food, but often I realize how I am ready for it to be over. I want to look back at it, instead of being there in the moment. I think about how I'll write about it or reflect on it--the conversation about caretaking parents or plans for retirement--but at the moment I would rather be home reading a book. 

Then comes the time to say, "Good night. I had such a lovely time, and thanks for inviting us," and I get a second wind. I bring up one more point related to an earlier conversation, as if we were still sitting at the dining room table. 

It is hard to take that final step out the door and hear it close behind me. 

 I reread a last chapter of a book rather than close it. I add a PS onto my letters, and after I have said "All for now," in an email, I continue with another topic. I like to watch all the movie credits and hear the last strain of music. I don't like rushing out of orchestra hall after a concert. I want more days of winter. 

I hold on to the ending and have a hard time moving on to the next beginning.

Of course, with all truths this is not always true. Usually, I am ready for vacation to end and classes to conclude, and I love getting to the end of a first draft for my blog or anything else I am writing. Noticing when ending is not a problem, however, somehow makes my trouble with endings all the more true.

What to do?
This time of our life, now that we are in our 60's or more, are ripe with endings. 

Careers are over. Friends and family members die. There just are not as many open doors as there used to be. This time of life, as we cope with change, loss, and yes, endings, is the time to examine our coping skills. Do we linger when it is over or do we gracefully smile and offer our gratitude? 

I am grateful for Dawna Markova's words in her book I Will Not Die an Unlived Life, Reclaiming Purpose and Passion: 
          When I die, I want my heart and soul fully seeded 
      with rich stories and experiences. I want to be moving 
      forward, falling upward, leaving my body well worn. 
      I want to know presence, staying with what is hard until 
      it softens, staying with what is narrow until it expands. 
      I want to know how to float in the silences between breaths 
      and thoughts, I want to know how to lift above and sink 
      below the flow of life, to drift and dream in the currents 
      of what cannot be known. It's not so much about being 
      prepared for death as it is being full of life. I want to be 
      so well practiced in crossing thresholds that dying is 
      merely another step in the dance. I want to be so
      comfortable with stillness and silence that I can root 
      in them.

This is the time to deepen our spiritual practices, so they are not an aside to who we are and what we do, but rather that they become our being and therefore, ease and support our one to a customer ending. 

A Gift
                    This will happen
                     Oh, god we say just give
                     me a few more
                     and don't let it be
                     let it be soft
                     perhaps in someone's 
                     arms, perhaps tasting
                     laughing or asking
                     Is it over already?
                     or saying not yet. Not
                     yet the sky
                     has at this moment turned
                     another shade of blue
                     and see there a child
                     still plays
                     in the fresh snow. 
                                  --Susan Griffin

An Invitation
How well do you do with endings? What endings have you experienced in your life and what can you learn from them?
What are you doing now to prepare for your own ending? What spiritual practices are becoming part of your being? I would love to know. Please comment. 

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