how it ends

I have been thinking a lot about endings lately. Breakups, death, jobs, families, divorce, friendships, loss. Everything ends—impermanence is one of the few things we know for certain on this earth. I think people tend to recall experiences in the lens of how it ended, the last moment. I certainly do. Sometimes that’s the most salient piece to recall, later—the ending. Yet, “how it ends” is not the whole story and I am noticing I get tripped up when I forget the both/and, when I forget that two seemingly contradicting realities can both be true. It can end differently from how it began, and the middle can be another thing all on its own.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
-T.S. Eliot

A forty year old woman worked at a local elementary school for over twenty years. She’s a single mom and spends most of her paycheck paying for her son to attend private school to avoid the trauma of urban public education that she experienced as a child and now works day in and out to improve. After 18 years of teaching fifth grade, she transitioned to an administrative role. For the last few years she has overseen instructional development, managed operations, served as the primary disciplinarian, and everything else that is never in anyone’s job description.

The district laid her off last week. The position got cut. She is a forty year old single mom whose paycheck pays her son’s school tuition. She got laid off from a school to which she’s committed her entire career and heart. It seems to be an awful ending. Yet, those twenty some-odd years cannot be negated or erased by a budget cut. How it ends is not the whole story. Tears come to my eyes when I consider her situation. She’ll find a new position, yes, and anyone would be lucky to have her—yet the ending came on a sheet of paper, impersonal, abrupt. The end.

The end has nothing to do with her years of service. We cannot judge the whole based on the quiet letter of departure.

My cat died unexpectedly while I was away with friends. I found him on my bedroom floor surrounded by vomit. I fled the scene in fear, shaking, panicked, voiceless. The vet said it was probably quick and most likely painful. Cats are solitary animals, but I hate to think of him dying alone. He died alone and in pain. It physically hurts me to think of how it may have happened. And I ran away from the sight.

It’s hard to not let this sudden ending tinge all the positive memories.

Four months before he died, my dad asked how old he was. “About two and a half,” I replied. “Ah!” dad smiled, “he’s just now getting into the height of life!” He was. He was supposed to be. And I have said over and over that it wasn’t supposed to happen this way, we were supposed to be together for such a long time. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. And, it did.

The images, the re-experiencing, the fear, the anger—painful emotions define our ending. Yet to claim that as the whole story disrespects him and denigrates myself. The joy he brought to my life still remains in my heart even though our ending was traumatic. I can love him and be grateful for the time we had and it will never, ever feel like enough. It isn’t enough. And that’s okay.

It can be all of these: poignant, awful, beautiful, exquisite, joyful, intense, tragic. All of these, because the end does not define the beginning, the end does not define the middle. The whole is all of these.

I’m thinking, too, that the trick is to not hold back. To know everything will end, in some way, somehow, one day—maybe unexpectedly, maybe painfully, maybe in a way that will utterly rip your heart out and make you wish you could die, too, because the pain is too much. To know everything will end, and do it anyway. Love anyway. Commit anyway. Go all in, do not hold back. Stay with it. Go all in and risk everything. Risk it anyway. Love anyway.

The context is a bit mismatched, but the sentiment is on par:

“…Good thing I’m a leprechaun.
Lucky, lucky, lucky.

Baby, I have no idea how this will end.
Maybe the equator will fall like a Hula-Hoop
from the earth’s hips
and our mouths will freeze mid-kiss
on our eightieth anniversary.

Or maybe tomorrow my absolute insanity
combined with the absolute obstacle course
of your communication skills
will leave us like a love letter in a landfill.

But whatever, whenever, however this ends
I want you to know right know,
I love you forever.”

-Andrea Gibson, “How it Ends”

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