In many ways being in an academic institution, like a college, is different than being in the real world. In fact, students and faculty often make references to the “real world out there” as if the world of the college is not “real.” Often the real world is painted in unkind ways. People talk about the dog-eat-dog life out there! Folks will lament living in a rat race. We have all heard these references and usually they are not pointing to some fun time.
Granted there is much in our world that is hard and unpleasant. Life can be difficult and does create losers. If we are old enough, we all know what it is like to lose. We don’t get the break we think we deserve. Someone may have cheated us out of an opportunity. Some get sick---sometimes very sick---and life does not seem fair. The list goes on.
Fortunately, there is another side of the story. Sometimes things do go well. Rather than a rat race, it may turn out to be a walk in the park. For some people things do come up roses. And amazingly, there are winners and, even more amazingly, sometimes I win! Those are great days. The sun shines and the world is a great place.
But to everything there comes an ending. Being in a college setting gives me quite a bit of practice with endings. It causes me to think about the story of endings. Or maybe better, all endings have a story---or are a story. Let’s look further at this phenomenon---the story of endings.
In college settings endings come fairly frequently. All the courses I teach have endings. The semester goes fifteen weeks and then it is over. The year has two semesters and it finishes. Students come for four years (or five) and then graduate---another ending. When I think about it, I have had much practice with endings. However much practice does not necessarily mean that one gets good at it. Let me analyze a little further the phenomenon of endings.
Probably the way many endings take place is simply the time runs out and it is over. For me it is easy to spend the fifteen weeks teaching a class week after week and then one day (usually Friday), it is over. You might say good-bye or wish the students good luck and they walk out of your life forever. There may actually have been much learned, but no relationship. You may have known them by name, but not by heart. It is easy to lecture---to go solo---and know nothing about anyone’s soul. In some cases it is not good-bye, but good riddance!
Too many times this mimics the “real world.” This sounds like too many divorces and broken relationships. No one may have been shot, but there often is too much violence---physical and emotional. I am sure there are decent ways to end even bad relationships---to write an effective story of ending even in this instance.
There also are creative, life-giving ways to write the story of endings. It usually takes some intentionality. Normally good endings don’t just happen. One can expect that good endings typically require some kind of care. In the best sense one needs to be care-ful---full of care. “Be careful” often simply means, “watch out.” It can mean “danger ahead.” But I prefer to understand being careful means exercising care. Care is actually a form of love. So to be careful is to be loving.
Maybe that is a cue to creating a story of a good ending. Perhaps the trick is to ask about any ending, what is the most loving thing I can muster? If it is a bad situation, the most loving thing may simply be to exit as gracefully as possible. But most situations can be made better than you think. Maybe to be careful in loving means to exercise some imagination about the story of endings.
I try to be as intentional and careful as I can be when I create the story of an ending. Every semester I get to try it again with numerous classes. I believe there are some predictable ways to write the good story of endings. The first thing is to be as affirming as you can be. Surely in any story there have been good things and worthwhile events or accomplishments. Affirm those. Memory can be a good thing. Often the story of a good ending cherishes the memories that contain the story line.
For example, in one class I teach all the students remember the day one of them shared about the death of his father. It was a riveting story and the group was never the same after that. Group memory is a powerful tool.
Finally, it is good to celebrate the endings. Obviously, this is easier when the ending is a good, happy one. But even if it is sad, it can be celebrated. Celebration is a way of saying “thank you” and moving on. I don’t think I am very good at celebration, but I am hoping to learn. Maybe that means I am still figuring out how to write a good story about my ending---whenever it comes.