It’s that time of year; the new school year is coming, the time when educators are supposed to be thinking about beginnings. Instead, I find myself thinking about endings, which of course, always precede (and succeed) beginnings.
I have always been this way, prone to nostalgia and melancholy about things coming to a close. I remember sitting at my desk in what must have been sixth or seventh grade, and having the following experience. I remember looking back at the previous year as “the good old days” – last year’s classroom, the class friendships, the jokes, the feel of the room, its color, its sounds and smell, and realizing with sadness that that year and all that came with it was gone, never to return. Then I realized with shock that next year, these would be the good old days. This seat. This messy desk. This seatmate, and the notes we passed. All this, which felt so present to me now, would soon be a memory like the years before it. Needless to say, this realization jarred and shocked me.
Of course, I pushed this unpleasant realization to the back of my mind as best I could. But had I known it, I had actually stumbled upon a truth that I would probably have done well to consider. Everything ends. Of course, it does. It has to, in order to make way for new beginnings. The now we exist in today would not be possible without an ending before it. Life is a never-ending cycle of endings and beginnings.
So what is a person who hates change to do? What can we all do when the fear of the shadow of change looms over us?
I found a beautiful formulation of an answer to this dilemma in Brene Brown’s writings. She writes of the experience of vulnerability and fear we feel when we recognize the potential for change, for endings. In the most joyous moments of our lives, the shadow of ending threatens. What to do in the face of that uncomfortable feeling? In Daring Greatly, she writes: “What was most surprising (and life-changing) … for me was.. [learning that] the shudder of vulnerability .. is an invitation to practice gratitude, to acknowledge how truly grateful we are for the person, the beauty, the connection, or simply the moment before us”.
In other words, in the face of change, practice gratitude for the current moment. In the present, take a moment to appreciate and give thanks for that which we have now. This is what Brene Brown’s research has found to be the antidote to the foreboding fear of change, and the gateway to joy in the present.
In our daily prayers, we are reminded of this lesson, and given the opportunity to practice this type of gratitude three times a day, in the Amida, in the modim blessing, we give thanks “for Your miracles which are with us every day, and for Your wonders and favors at all times, evening, morning, and midday,.”
For myself, I am striving to bring more kavana, more intention, to this prayer, and to remember to focus on being grateful for that which brings me joy today. May all our endings, and our beginnings, be blessed.