Endings and Beginnings

Sagrada Família nave roof detail by Flickr user SBA73 https://www.flickr.com/people/7455207@N05
Sagrada Família nave roof detail | Title: Tot conflueix / All’s conected | Author: SBA73 | Source: Flickr | License: CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1984, we formed a book group in Basking Ridge, NJ with 6 other couples. Our first book was George Orwell’s 1984. We met monthly (with few exceptions) for the next 32 years discussing a diverse mixture of books: fiction and non-fiction, simple and complex, light and heavy, funny and sad, uplifting and depressing. Each book gave us an opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings and to get to know each other on a deeper level. We argued with each other and supported each other. We laughed together and cried together. And last month it finally came to an end.

Over the course of 32 years, the composition of the group changed. Some couples moved away. Some couples passed away. Some couples dropped out. Whenever a couple left, we welcomed a new couple into the group. A core group of us hung in for the duration. Through the entire journey we deepened our knowledge of topics we would probably have never encountered without the group. More importantly, we deepened the connections we had with each person in the group in ways that would not have occurred without open, honest, civil and soulful conversation. It was very sad to experience the end.

In my experience, most beginnings generate excitement and most endings cause sadness. I guess starting a new job could create dread or anxiety, or ending a bad relationship could lead to a feeling of relief, but I typically feel high when beginning something new and low when ending something old, like when a comfortable pair of shoes are finally worn out. Leaving the book group felt like losing an old shirt—tattered and battered with holes, stains, and frayed fabric, but mighty comfortable none the same.

When I think of endings and beginnings, I’m reminded of an art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan entitled “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible.” The exhibition included works from many masters that were never completed.

It raised a question in my mind: Who decides when something is “finished”?

Maybe an unfinished work is still complete in and of itself. Perhaps a “finished” work could have been enhanced by a brush stroke the artist didn’t imagine at the time. But who decides if the “enhancement” was for better or for worse?

It seems to me that endings may have some of the same characteristics as an “unfinished” work of art.

Does the end of a book group mean that all the relationships are over, or does it mean that a new type of relationship begins? In my work, when I’m ending a team building session, I ask the question, “Is there any unfinished business?” This question gives participants a chance to express any concerns or feelings that may still be stirring in their guts, and gives the group a chance to get closure. For me, the most important part of “endings” is closure. When a loved one or parent dies, the critical factor in how people handle their grief is whether or not they felt they had closure before the end.

Unfortunately, or fortunately as the case may be, I have had a lot of practice with endings recently. Not only has the book group ended, but we are leaving New York City. My wife and I have lived on the East Cost since 1980, and we have grown strong roots here. We love going to the theatre and to the parks. We enjoy walking to the grocery store, gym, and the subway that enables us to access all of the city without having to drive. We love meeting friends for dinner in any one of 1,000 great restaurants. We treasure the time we regularly get to spend with our two daughters, who also live in Brooklyn. We are even going to miss going to our local gym, where we are a part of an unusually supportive and friendly community. To top it off, moving from NY will essentially mean the end of our careers as we have known them.

Manhattan, New York City, United States; by NASA https://unsplash.com/@nasa
Manhattan, New York City, United States; by NASA

All of these endings, however, will give birth to new beginnings. Just as every beginning represents the birth of an ending. every ending may represent an opportunity for a new beginning. I want to hold each ending with gratitude, acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion. And I need to see each beginning with fresh eyes and an openness to new possibilities.

Nature is my best teacher. Every day begins with a sunrise and ends with a sunset. Both are beautiful in their own way. At 71 years old, I am much closer to the ultimate sunset than to the sunrise. And yet, each breathtaking sunset fills me with a sense of wonder. I’m hoping for thousands of uniquely stunning sunrises and sunsets in the years I have left.

Embracing the new, however, when I am still in the grips of the old is not a trivial challenge. I get stuck in old patterns. I cling to cherished traditions. I hang on to habits. I shrink at the thought of leaving behind friends and family. I wrap myself in rigid identities. I resist change by finding the negative in everything new. Endings and beginnings both seem overwhelming.

I forget that the only really big deal is death. Everything else pales in comparison. I forget that life only promises change and that change is what got me to where I AM NOW. I long for the security and comfort of the familiar. I deny that nothing ever stays the same. Even though I may be stale, I refuse to smell the freshness of the new. Even though I may feel weighted by defensive armor, I still resist dropping my guard and experiencing the lightness of being. Even though I see the distancing effects of my negativity, I have a hard time crossing the Bridge of Positivity into the Land of Possibility.

I believe that every moment and every step is an opportunity for newness and freshness if only I can open up and embrace the grace of my existence. Every moment is an invitation to Ahh, Ooh, Wow. But I still miss my old tattered shirts and worn out shoes. And I will surely miss the my bookie friends, my dinner dates with my daughters, my gym buddies, my neighborhood pals, my soul mates, and all those long and cherished friendships I’ve developed over the years. Thanks endings. Hello beginnings.

 

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Gary Stauffer
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Gary Stauffer

Love your postings! Glad to have you back in Michigan!

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