This is the season of beginnings and endings. The season of graduations and retirements, bridal showers and weddings. Nature begins her return to green-ness, tantalizing us with samples of the summer to come. On the first 75-degree day, we resurrect our shorts and flip-flops, poke around in the garden, wake up the lawn mower and hose down the outdoor furniture. We expose our winter-white skin to the warmth of the sun and happily go without socks for the first time in months. Perhaps because I was born in the spring, this is a beginning I welcome with open arms.
These months also bring beginnings and endings for those involved in the great lumbering behemoth of education. Tonight I will attend the last orchestra concert directed by a long-time colleague before he retires. I know what those last few weeks of being employed in a school feel like—the last program, the last parent email, (mercifully) the last faculty meeting or in-service day— full-blown elation tempered with the anxiety of “What happens next and will I have enough money to live on?” In the midst of the accolades and speeches, lurks the realization that what has been a huge part of your life is ending forever. Turn in your laptop and ID card and from now on, you sign in as a guest in a place where you ground it out for thirty-plus years.
This is the season for parents to swallow hard and put up a good front as they realize their time caring for a child 24/7 is ending. Seeing that child off to prom dressed like a grown-up in a formal gown or tux. Watching him or her walk across the stage at graduation or marry the person they love most in the world. Celebrating the long-awaited college acceptance or job offer. Glorious times and wonderful beginnings, but they come with the price tag of no longer seeing that child’s face at the breakfast table.
I think beginnings and endings are even harder when they’re not controlled by life events—by meeting graduation requirements or reaching retirement age. When we have to wrestle ourselves with questions about when it’s time to begin something new in our lives or end something that no longer serves a purpose for us. It can be as simple as deciding to give up or join an activity or organization or as difficult as moving a loved one into a care facility. The answers are seldom clear-cut, and my experience is, in the end, you pray about it and go with your gut.
In the drum corps organizations that are strictly for young people, there is an upper age limit of twenty-one. When a member marches off the field for the last time, he or she leaves their marching shoes behind on the field. The drums and horns have quieted, the props and scenery are gone, but the stadium lights are still on, shining down on the pairs of shoes lying discarded on the field. Those young musicians are off to jobs and lives and possibly marching with a senior corps, but their days in this particular organization have come to an end. And so it is with beginnings and endings. We all leave our shoes behind on the field somewhere, our legacy of where we’ve been and the lives we’ve touched.