I have a tendency to hold on too tightly, to people, to places, and to moments, stretching out all of the goodness until the final breaking point. I clench my fists until my knuckles are white and my palms have dark indentations forming from my nails digging in so deeply. I wait until the expiration date has come and gone, until the goodbye is long overdue, before I am finally able to loosen my grip. And even when I wait as long as possible, it pains me to let go.
I don’t hold on so tightly because I want to – I wish endings were easier for me. I wish letting go wasn’t so emotionally strenuous. But I hold on out of fear – a fear of good stories coming to a close and a fear of releasing relationships that once meant the world to me. I fear losing people who brought beauty into my life, and I fear saying goodbye to anyone or anything that touched me in an irreplaceable way.
I don’t know how to say goodbye when my life has been permanently changed for the better.
I guess I struggle to make peace with leaving behind something golden.
Nostalgia is defined as “a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time; a longing; a wistfulness.” But maybe nostalgia can happen in the present moment too. Maybe it’s possible to feel nostalgic even before the present has become a memory. Maybe it’s a fear of a “place or time” becoming a memory that makes letting go so incredibly difficult. Maybe I’m afraid of approaching nostalgia.
Birthdays have always felt extra bittersweet to me. Each year I look forward to February, yet when my birthday rolls around, I can’t help but feel a bit melancholy. Even though birthdays are new beginnings, and are reason for celebration, they also signify the endings of all of the years and experiences that have led up to the new age. They imply a loss of innocence. They imply closing the chapters that made up year 26 or 29 or 33. Birthdays turn years and ages into memories. Birthdays turn experiences into stories, stories that have endings.
During the sparkly, festive countdown on New Years, the same sentimental, conflicting feelings make their way into my thoughts.I dress up in a silver sequin dress and drink champagne as the clock nears midnight. I smile for photos, and try to enjoy the moment. But the mood is never fully that of excitement for me. I used to believe my discomfort stemmed from the pressure to create a new beginning in the new year, and to make the most of a fresh, blank slate. But now I understand that my discomfort is rooted in the acknowledgement of an ending. My discomfort comes from realizing that with the drop of the ball, the year is over, and none of the experiences will ever happen again. As the year moves up one number, the world just continues to move forward, leaving the past behind.
Even as a kid, August rolling around would always signify our last summer trip to the beach, which for me meant the last beach trip of the year. The last beach trip each summer would be the last time I would see the Atlantic that year, so every “last” beach trip, I would say goodbye to the ocean, as if it were some big important ending, as if I would never return to the same ocean again. Everytime I said goodbye to the waves, my heart felt heavy, with a sense of sadness. Like I wasn’t ready to let go of each particular summer, and each specific beach trip. Like everything would be different when I would return the next summer.
The goodbyes to people have by far been the hardest. When I’ve lost people I have loved, I’ve grappled with believing that the story wasn’t important if it ended. It’s always felt to me like the ending of a relationship implied that everything we had created together was forever lost, because of a break up or a death or a loss of a friendship. I’ve had trouble letting go, even when it’s time, because I’ve been afraid of experiencing the world without that person by my side. To make peace with the loss of a person who we thought we had at least part of forever with is a difficult mountain to climb.
Goodbyes are the hardest because they signify a loss of something we once held dear. Goodbyes bring about an ending of a time that once felt good to us. Goodbyes put the final period on the page. Goodbyes make the sentence come to a close.
But perhaps some of the most golden parts of life are fleeting; perhaps the greatest miracles don’t last forever. Most of the time, they only exist for a moment in time, and then the flickering spark dies out and only the smoke remains. But their brevity doesn’t take away their significance.
Endings do not mean that the middles never happened.
And while letting go is painful, I’m beginning to understand how to create closure, how to tie off the endings into neat bows. I’m learning how to store each little memory somewhere in the back of my mind, where I can still cherish it, even if it is now part of the past. Because even though the good times and the good people may not stay with us forever, we can still allow them to impact us immeasurably. We can still feel lucky that our lives were touched in such a way, and grateful that we had these stories and these people that we didn’t want to lose.
Goodbyes will sting for a while, and that’s a truth we simply cannot avoid. But when we realize that we can keep the meaningful parts of every story with us, I think goodbyes become a little more bearable. I don’t know if I’m ever going to lose my fear of endings, but I do know now that it’s okay to let go. It’s okay to not hold on until my hands are physically hurting. It’s okay to let go even when a story seems like it is ending too soon. It’s okay to cry over and to mourn each ending, but it’s also okay to allow the ending to happen anyway.
And when we do let go, we are left with a wide open space in our heart, a space that used to be filled by someone or something we cherished and loved. A space that once held something “good” has been replaced by a space that feels empty and lonely. And the scary part is, we don’t know what will fill this space next. We don’t know how long it will be vacant. We don’t know if the next person or the next story will be as beautiful as the previous one. We don’t know if we’ll ever feel the exact same way again.
And while this is daunting, I guess I’m realizing that maybe it can also be kind of magical. Because even though we might not experience the very same feeling again, there’s a chance that we might be able to experience something that is just as precious, in a different way.
I do not think that endings ever become any easier. But maybe we can feel a little more content when we realize that each ending, without fail, is accompanied by a brand new beginning.
And maybe, just maybe, this new beginning will be a different type of miracle.