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After a whirlwind year of changes, new starts, first times, and reorientation, we’ve reached the last day of school. The kids’ backpacks barely survived, and their almost-not-holding-together folders are evidence of all of the homework, busy nights, and papers that have passed from school to home over the course of the last school year.
Even though the last day of school signifies the first day of summer and lots of excitement, it also brings with it a series of lasts for the year. Last school lunch. Last homework night. Last day in this classroom. Last time in this grade.
It might seem strange, but all these lasts have me thinking about the end times.
Not the end times as imagined in Left Behind, or the end times designed to frighten, but the end times of coming to the end of something.
Last month in the Bible Study I lead, our group began talking about the end times. We realized that every one of us lives through many end times. We come to the end of things we thought would never end, and we have to navigate what those endings entail.
In my own life, I can think of several end times – some easier to navigate than others – and they always brought with them a sense of loss, even if there was also joy and expectation. The end of each school year, the end of my first job, the end of living at home year round, the end of college, the end of being single, the end of seminary, the end of time with a loved one who has died, the end of seasons and eras and years. These ends are like when the GPS pauses to recalculate. We will soon be somewhere else – not here, not in this position, not in this experience, not in this relationship.
Something comes to an end, and that end time forces us to rethink, to reevaluate, to reconsider.
One of my favorite parts at the end of every school year was the opportunity to bring home everything from my desk and locker. My folders were so tattered that they sometimes split in half. My notebooks were filled with notes. My backpack was faded and worn.
These seemed appropriate for the end times. They showed all we’d made it through. They were evidence of all the long nights and full days. I’d grown, changed, experienced joys and struggles, and these worn out school supplies felt like testimonies to all that change. Not every end time comes with those tangible symbols like the end of the school year does, but we carry them with us on the inside. These experiences have changed us, and now we need to recalculate. We need to re-position ourselves on the other side of these end times.
I find myself desperately trying to come up with a routine or a liturgy of some kind for navigating these ends, and I’ve found that the truth is I don’t do the end times well. I either wish away the present and long for the end, or I try to press hard through the end of things so that I don’t have to deal with the sadness and loss that ends inevitably bring.
So, today I took my kids out for lunch and I looked through all of the papers they brought home, and I’m wondering what to do to commemorate this end time. Tomorrow we’ll all wake up on the other side of this school year. We won’t have the bell ringing to remind us of when the day begins (though my alarm clock will still be set so I can make it into the office). And tomorrow night there will be no homework, no papers to sign, no backpacks to check.
There will be baseball and softball practices.
There will be swimming lessons and bike rides.
There will be meals outside and thunderstorms that urge us to build blanket forts.
There will be iced tea and sunshine and pulling weeds.
But there will never be this school year again.
Happy and sad.
Time goes so fast.