by Cooper Young
I have come to realize that we live our lives in a series of oft co-mingling phases, the boundaries of which we usually fail to properly recognize. These, for the most part, consist of waiting for our lives to change.
Every culture has its rites of passage. Every one. Take an anthropology course or two, read a book, or even just pick a random group of people and look them up on Wikipedia, and one of the first things you’ll learn about your subject is how they deal with births, deaths, marriages, and puberty. Some are secular and some are religious; some are large ceremonies, others small, often mysterious catecheses of a younger member of the group by elders. If there’s one thing we do universally as humans, it’s rites of passage. They are there to send us from one phase of our life to the other, to mark the transition between waiting periods, and to categorize us as belonging to certain segments of our societies. They mark boundaries.
But I said “properly”.
You see, these things that we do—weddings, baptisms, graduations (to use my own culture for reference)—all mark beginnings, not ends. How is this, if these things come between phases? Logically, one could argue that they are both beginnings and ends. We certainly treat them as ends, especially if we aren’t the one experiencing them.
Think about it, though. When you graduated high school, were you that you had achieved something, or glad that you could now move on to the “adult” world of college or employment? When you got your first job, were you more pleased to see the end of boredom (or panic, depending on your age) or the beginning of profit? When you graduated college, were you happy to have finished, or happy that you could start living in the real world?
Let’s take something more subtle: moving. Regardless of how much your last residence sucked, you tend to be happier about being in a new place than about not being in the old one.
Given any life altering circumstance, we tend to see the beginning that it signifies, not the end. Part of it is human optimism. Part of it has to do with our linear conception of time. Part of it is a reflection of our modern obsession with avoiding all reference to death. Everything is a beginning, and all endings are thrust to the backs of our minds.
Sometimes, though, these endings creep up on us. Today, after eight months of waiting and a final office visit to see what the hell was going on, I received this:
I’d already had my rite of passage, and I’d already begun my life after that phase (again, a waiting period), so as I sat taping the thing into the frame and waiting for the baby to nap so I could finish reviewing my editor’s notes, the end of it all hit me. That was my last tie to UCCS, and once I was done framing it, I would be doing one of my last run-throughs of my first novel.
The end of five years was sitting on my desk and, unlike after any beginning-signifying rite of passage, I had no idea what the next phase was.
This is why I said “properly”. In our rush to proclaim the beginning, we often cheat ourselves out of building the ability to deal with the end. We turn back to the beginning and mutter to ourselves “I don’t know what’s next, but I’m sure it involves waiting on whatever’s after that.”
Luckily, it almost always does.
Tell me, friends: Where are you?