The entries for today and tomorrow look at the concept of “endings”, and how we might react to that idea as it plays out in our lives. Today: Some concept exploration….
The title above, evocative of scores of cartoons, is also familiar emotional territory for older adults. Endings of any kind may seem to gather like lifespan sentries, silently watching as we move toward conclusive events and eventualities in our lives. They don’t warn or guard us—these sentinels just observe our relentless progress towards life’s inevitabilities.
“The end is near” also calls forth the themes of Advent, now dawning in the liturgical calendar. In the cold of winter come lectionary texts that remind us about the end of time, the return of Christ, and the last judgement—each with apocalyptic tones that can rattle dread loose from its place deep in our souls.
Recent news events—such as the destructive fires in Northern California—call to mind how quickly life-as-we-know-it can come crashing/burning to a halt, leaving any of us destitute or adrift.
Endings occur in all of our lives, over and over. Institutions wind down, trends run out of gas, systems wear out, relationships fray and frazzle, bodies and brains lose capacities and death stops at too many doorsteps near us. As we grow older, it may seem as though much of our daily lives can be characterized by the endings that we encounter. “The end is near” can feel like an ominous drumbeat in everyday life.
This viewpoint tells only one part of the story about endings. There is more to this matter: Finishes also have strongly positive elements that we can consider with more than somber acceptance of life’s inevitabilities. “The end is near” can also carry good news, so “What’s next?” can also be good.
Some endings signal welcome changes. When an end is near and we think we’re out of options, rescue or redemption can be sweet, joyful, hopeful. Endings can lead us toward humility. Endings can sequester life’s deepest joys away from life’s deepest sorrows. As the closing stages of life approach, we can find compelling reasons to scrub our lives of what’s superficial.
Two favorite maxims summarize the matter: ”The barn burned down; now I can see the moon” and “Every end is a beginning, every exit an entrance.” What’s done with can be the start of what’s never been done. For example, the termination of a job can result in new work or early retirement. The end of an illness can allow a healthy life to begin again. Having lost everything to a natural disaster, we can reconfigure our lifestyles to what’s manageable. The end of a cycle of political unrest can open up possibilities for renewed civility and respect. A deadly forest fire can leave behind soil conditions that encourage new growth. Even our physical deaths are only a temporary stopping place on the way to eternal life. Life is stronger than death.
Our attitudes about endings can help determine how we react to conclusions, expirations, finish lines or closings that come our way. In tomorrow’s entry, I think alongside you about how we can respond to the enduring/eternal fact that an end is near.
That endings are near….