Today I finished packing the same bag that I have packed exactly 16 times before, from Ontario International Airport, CA to Boston Logan International Airport, MA, or vice versa, going back to school or coming back home on various breaks. Weirdly enough, I realized that this is the last time I will pack this bag for this same, college-ruled 2,947 mile trip, eastbound or westbound, in the summertime heat or the bitter winter cold. Never again will I make this trip in either direction as a college student.
As we pass through various milestones in life, we are confronted with the reality that our lives’ events, including the grand event of life itself, invariably, do not last forever. Second semester of senior year of college has presented me with an especially difficult challenge—three and a half years ago, I left home, a first considering I did not attend boarding school. I forged a new home, on the other side of the country, with a makeshift family whose bonds that were special because of their chosen nature, and not their blood-borne necessity. Home began to mean something different to me, as did the people it was composed of. Through my own doing or through the mere experience of others’ doing, stumbling into their lives and them into mine, the idea of what a family was, and what it meant to be home was no longer tied exclusively to a singular picture of the four walls within which I grew up.
As the end of my first real journey nears, I find it difficult to resist the temptation of holding on as tightly as I can, so not to lose what I have so quickly come—and will so quickly leave—to cherish. Everything in me tells me to embrace this moment so tightly, to focus so intently on its permanent impression into my mind or into the camera roll of my iPhone that I will never forget even the most minute detail of its perfectly fleeting existence.
Time itself temps us to immortalize the mortal, and make what was only a moment, last forever, robbing us of the joy of actually experiencing the present moment. We’re tempted to crystallize each passing second as our “last”—last time flying into (insert airport here), last class with (insert professor here), last season, last first game, last second game, last third game, last twelfth hour of the fourth day of the second month of this year. This process continues, and will continue, until we realize exactly this: life is composed of nothing but lasts.
All life itself is, is a series of lasts. Every passing second is unique unto itself, and will be unlike any other second we experience in our cameo here on Earth. When we come to the conclusion that each moment is its own finale, we will stop treating it as such, and no longer clutch onto each mortal second so tightly that its beautiful intricacies slip through our fingers.
As the old adage goes, you never step into the same river twice. The fact is that sometimes we know which endings really are endings, and sometimes we do not. There are certain events whose ends we know to be true—graduating high school, college, moving away from home—and can accept. Our fault comes in labeling uncertain endings as lasts, when they could very well be only last in the sense that their beautifully burning fuse in this present moment has been used up. Tomorrow I will fly into Boston for what I could possibly say is the last time. Under the exact circumstances under which I will be flying, this is true. But if we take each moment for face value and understand than to a certain extent, every experience is an end unto itself, we will no longer find ourselves so scared of losing what we have in the present that we squeeze the authenticity from its very existence.
Surely there will be moments in our lives that seem more like lasts more than others will. The last semester of school will feel more transitional—with one stop melting into another start—than will dinner on a Tuesday night. The big moments in life are those that most markedly exemplify both our growth and potential as people; they mark where we have been and what we have accomplished, yet also signify a platform from which to do greater things. A last that truly feels like a last is nothing more than a platform embedded in a world that, to our amazement, still keeps spinning when that last has finished. Though our Earth spins a little faster on certain days, we can be at peace when we remember that the best things in life—days, moments, weeks—are always the ones that go too fast, and the moments that go too fast will always be the best ones. Fast moments necessitate our full presence, and not merely a presence dictated by the goal of preserving it for the future. If we are too focused on producing the material that we will one day be able to look back on, that material loses a certain quality that makes looking back worthwhile.
So yes, tomorrow will be the last time I fly to Boston under the pretense that I am, or like to think that I am, a college student. Tuesday will be my last first day of the semester, and come May, I will take my last step on the Holy Cross campus as a student, and first step into a place that I only know as “not college.” Each last will be terrifying, and each last will tempt me to catalogue, record, organize, and collect the smiles, breaths, kisses, laughs, and tears that this semester will undoubtedly produce. The key will come in learning the delicate balance between presence and preservation, and the recognition that both are necessary, albeit in varying amounts. Our lives will perpetually be a collection of lasts, of steps from the familiar to the not-so-much, starting and stopping and blending and melting into one another, forming a picture that suggests that just maybe, lasts are all that “forever” could ever be made of.
Image courtesy of Scott, Flickr Creative Commons