“Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning, and under every deep a lower deep opens.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Years ago a friend transcribed and framed this quote for me as I was graduating and moving away from what had been my home for close to a decade. It was an emotional time for me and I remember reading this quote and trying to understand the natural rhythms between endings and beginnings. As we go forward in life, we believe that the cycle starts with beginnings- now as I watch my children grow up and move on, I see that something usually first has to end in order to move to a new beginning.
My relationship to endings has always been a bit thorny. As useful as it may be to not be a quitter, one could also be accused of not easily letting go. It is perhaps the deepest form of resilience that we can develop- the ability to transition through the space of what we know ending and opening to the unknown. It is the single largest fear that most people share- letting go of the familiar and embracing uncertainty.
I have seen this played out in the last several days as my own children are graduating and moving into new and uncertain life stages. My eldest just earned her B.A. at the University of Oregon and my youngest is leaping into the new world of high school. Both transitions require them to let go of what they have known, how they have defined themselves and come to organize their days.
The local high school graduation this year was more poignant and reflective than most in recent memory. The class of 2011 had the painful honor of sustaining the loss of four of their classmates and the father of another. Their entire high school career was dedicated to the un-natural endings and hard-won new beginnings that they bear. Instead of throwing the class into despair, it tapped a deep nerve of connectivity. The kids who witnessed death needed to embrace life with all their being. The typical school pageantry and graduation speeches were steeped with deep creativity and willingness to be vulnerable with life.
This is the secret of aging well, too. Watching my children grow up is a relinquishment of both who they were and who I was. It is impossible to hang onto ideas of your past self, the mother I was even 6 months ago is not useful to us now. My screen saver is loaded with pictures or the family over the last decades. Time shifts and switches at 20 second intervals and I easily get lost in the small bright faces of my younger children and the youthful gaze in my own.
I want to look outward to the new circle being drawn, knowing full well that all the circles that preceded are being held safely inside. Letting go is not really losing what was, it is embracing it from a little distance out. Allowing the best of our history to inform and frame our best choices for today.