The end of the year, for all the admittedly overrated and sometimes superficial fanfare that surround it, provide the perception and feeling of closing out something, and getting that sense of finality because of it. Some people call this “closure.”
As I get older, as life doesn’t seem to have the same sense of beginnings and endings, checkpoints and marks to complete, I have also realized that I appreciate any sense of closure I get at all. I think at a certain point in your young adult years, you realize that closure is more of a privilege than a right. And oftentimes you have to “move on” from one thing to the next without the certainty of an ending.
I’ve been thinking about endings a lot lately. Well, to be honest, I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. I’ve had to in the last two years. I was thinking specifically about all the losses that my family and close friends and I, have experienced. It seemed greater in the last two years than in any other time of my life. Maybe that just comes with getting older.
From my last living grandparent – my maternal grandmother – to a friend I met in college, and then there are aunts and uncles who I knew of better in my younger years than now, but who all the same were my family; it was a period of loss. I did a headcount: Six. Six people who were near and dear to me and my loved ones passed away during this period of time.
I never really got to say a final goodbye to any of them – there was no closure. At least not in the way we popularly define the word and the concept. But in thinking about these deaths with a good friend who is much older than me, she said something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Being a religious and spiritual person, as it is important to note, she told me that, “There is no need for goodbye because now there exists no physical or spacial distance between you and your loved ones. They are with you always.”
There are many versions of the idea of a person’s spirit after they die, living with their loved ones. But there was something particularly brilliant in how my friend chose her words. This idea that prior to their death, there existed a physical distance between myself and some loved ones, but after death, there is no spacial distance, was a nuanced way to marry death and grief. I found a sort of closure in this knowledge too, but I also found something else: vigor.
From the elderly to the middle-aged, when you’re young and in your twenties, all people ever insist on is that these are the best years of your life. They insist that, “youth is wasted on the young.” These years seem to contain the right amounts of responsibilities and freedom for many of us who are maybe unmarried, without children, and with the world supposedly at our feet.
I don’t deny that objectively, the twenties are a decade to love. Although I would argue so is every other decade one is alive. But I would argue too that the twenties, for me and many people I know, have been filled with uncertainty, anxiety, and the difficult work of growing up. And growing up, is hard. It is beautiful and inspiring and invigorating to learn and decide who you want to become, but it is also hard. This, mind you, comes from a person who is objective and confident enough to say that in general, I like who I am and who I am becoming. Not all of that person, but most of that person, most of the time.
Still, it can feel like one struggle after the next in your twenties. Apart from the ongoing struggle that is forming the person you are, there are the worries surrounding your choice(s) of education, employment, vocation, city to live in, whether to travel, who to love and how to love them, and the ways to build a family and support system outside of the one you know. And if you’re not intentional, you’ll soon find that you ended up with a bunch of things and people and places you didn’t plan to choose, and that maybe you don’t even want at all.
I suppose I’ve been very lucky in that respect. I’ve got a great family – both the one I was born into and the one I choose, I’m on the career path(s) that I enjoy, and I’ve got education – both formally and informally – that I truly believe is invaluable. But even as someone who fully admits to thinking a bit too much about everything and often, I sometimes still find myself feeling like I’m going through the motions. Which more than anything else, when I realize it, is something I cannot stand. I firmly believe that life should be active and deliberate, not passive and reactive.
In contemplating all the losses that have been faced, and all the people whose spirits are now close to me, I’ve been thinking about how their lives are the very reason I have to go out and live mine as fully and as best as possible. Because though it’s been said a million times before and it’ll be said a million times more, life is short, and always ends too soon.
So even as I slightly scoff at myself for looking forward to a new year – which is mostly a man-made design for simplicity and structure, I am all the same grateful for the closure. I am grateful for the many lives who enrich mine by their presence, but especially for those whose presence is no longer limited by physics. Their lives are a reminder to me that this life is an adventure, and the only way to honor them, as well as those around me physically, is to always do the best I can in my life, knowing that “the best” is something that changes.
But all the same, what does this life look like? To me, it looks like the willingness to take risks and chances, to bet on yourself, to have the courage to keep faith and hope in the midst of trials; to love and be loved, to create and be formed, and to find the adventure in the extraordinary as well as the ordinary. That’s what I’m going to try to do more of this year anyway. I hope you’ll do the same.