(Warning–this might get long!!)
(Dangling carrot–there are pictures of soccer finals, our five-alarm fire drill, and last night’s sleepover at the end of this entry! )
There’s something about endings that pushes people to extremes. I won’t mention the imminent “ending” that is looming on all our horizons–mostly because Sunny might start to flail and gasp and convulse and stagger while uttering frantic, staccato Koreanisms. It’s not a medical condition, though I’ve had to stifle the urge to call a Tourette’s specialist on multiple occasions. It’s just her usual reaction to just about anything, from having to blow her nose to finding out a nuclear missile is slated to land on the dorm in 2.34 seconds. She’s really laid back that way. Really.
But I was on the topic of endings. In the interest of sparing Sunny any more trauma than is strictly necessary, I shall refer to graduation as an “enema”. Feels like a good fit as both signal the end of a painfully long, frustrating process and a fairly frightening nudge toward the discomfort of the uncontrolable unknown.
As we approach milestones, we tend to react in one of several ways:
– The Ostrich Approach: we laugh, we joke, we do everything within our power to convince ourselves that it isn’t really happening. We act as though the past few years at BFA and the coming end of this experience really don’t matter that much to us. Downside: it certainly cuts down on the immediate pain, but it alienates us from those who are living these days in a realistic, profound way (usually exactly the type of friends we need at this time!), and it only makes the pain–when in finally comes–more maiming and solitary. It robs us of closure and of the chance of making new memories.
– The Cinderella Man Approach: we pick fights, we concentrate on everything that drives us crazy in other people and places and events, we get belligerent, impatient, and generally unlovable. Downside–we risk injuring relationships that have been meaningful until now, we offend “innocent bystanders” who have nothing to do with the real issues causing our reaction, and we live in anger, which is toxic to us, to our environment, and most importantly to our ability to end well.
– The Martyr Approach: we see ourselves as victims of the circumstances that make the milestone necessary. We figure God or BFA or our parents are deliberately causing us pain. We feel sorry for ourselves and crumble inward. Downside–we’re so consumed with feeling sorry for ourselves that we are no longer capable of communicating with our friends in a profound way. Our friendships suffer and “good” goodbyes are nearly impossible.
– The Diva Approach: we go hysterical. We weep and wail and moan and groan and beg and plead and sputter and get caught up in a maelstrom of emotion. Don’t get me wrong–grief is a necessary part of any milestone as momentous as…uh…enemas. There *should* be sadness, there *should* be tears, there *should* be earnest expressions of your love for others and your fear of losing them. Honesty is absolutely at the heart of healthy transitions. But extreme, protracted, over-the-top emotional reactions can have downsides. They take time away from more beneficial activities like conversations, reminiscing, sharing of hearts, deepening of bonds and living the ending together rather than alone. They also scare off the people we love who might not want to spend their final days in an emotional vortex and would rather invest their time and energy in more beneficial ways.
I’ve witnessed 14 “enemas” in my tenure at BFA (ew–I might have come up with a less icky pseudonym for grad), plus my own twelfth grade ending–more years ago than I care to admit. Let’s just say my prize outfit was a flared light denim skirt under which I wore a cotton petticoat and white leggings, and above which I sported a crisp cotton blouse with pouffy sleeves and shoulder pads, a large plastic-bead necklace, and a lovely length of white lace which I tied around my hair in a big side-bow. I was particularly proud of the bright white pair of Keds sneakers I wore with the ensemble. I blame Madonna for the decade long cultural fashion faux-pas!
What have I learned from so many year-end ceremonies and post-ceremony observations? One simple truth: we’d be wise to pattern our final days after Jesus’ example. All of the approaches listed above yield nothing but added grief on the big day and after, because we realize only too late that we’ve wasted time, squandered friendships, hurt others, and deprived ourselves of honest, healing grief. What did Jesus do? (Is it time to order up some W-D-J-D bracelets?)
– He allowed Himself to grieve. He went off alone to tell God of His fears and pain. He took time for Himself in order to fully realize the enormity of His final days…including the emotions they required.
– He spent time with those closest to Him. In the final hours, He didn’t go out and try to drown Himself in any activity that would take His mind off the inevitable. He chose to spend the time with those He loved, communing and sharing.
– He said what needed to be said. He spoke to each of His disciples, gave them encouragement and guidance. Even in the face of the horror ahead of Him, He focused on their needs as much as His own.
– He continued to invest Himself in others. It could have been “all about Him”–and certainly no one would have blamed Him! But He loved others enough to continue to serve them. He continued to build His legacy in the lives of others right up until the END.
My fear for the seniors I love this year is that the end will turn them inward, their fear will fuel misplaced anger, and their grief will disarm any form of impact they might still have on others who still need them. You might not recognize your “symptoms” as fear or grief, but bear in mind that most of your emotions will be manifestations of those–just cloaked in more manageable forms! It is only human to react as Ostriches, Fighters, Martyrs and Divas–but we are called to aspire to a higher standard than mere humanity. It’s not easy–I fail more often than I succeed. But I’ve learned the benefits of loving others to the end, embracing change for what it is without fighting it or hating it, relying entirely on God for sustenance during emotionally draining times, and refusing to take out my grief, my frustration, or my fear on the innocent bystanders who populate my life. So my advice to you, beloved seniors, despite the fact that you never asked for it, is to make the end of this year something profitable not only for you but also for those around you. Don’t let emotions morph you into something you’re not. Continue to earn the respect of others, to be thankful for large and small acts of kindness, and to treat others as your would like to be treated.
This got long. I’m sorry. Please, please, please use whatever energy you have left to end well, without injury to yourself or to others. You owe it to yourself to move forward into the next exciting chapter of your life with few, if any, regrets.
Happy enema, everybody!
FIRE DRILL IN HOLZEN