How Things End


I often find myself, on the opening days of a much-anticipated vacation or adventure, preoccupied with the thought that it is going to end soon. Even at the beginning of, say, a two-week period — generally regarded as a “long time” when it comes to doing fun things — I cannot shake the feeling that, though I have all this time ahead of me, I will soon be packing up to go.

I even trick myself into believing that focusing on the time I will leave will make the whole event pass more slowly. “If I concentrate on the limited time I have,” I say to myself, “I will savor every moment more.” And yet, without fail, all of the hand-wringing about when things will have to end only distracts me from the moment at hand, obscuring my vision about what I am being afforded to focus on the fact that it is temporary.

Though this sentiment of reverse-anticipation is at its most potent in extremely time-limited circumstances, like vacation, or summer itself; this feeling that life is slipping between my fingers is one that often plagues some of the more profound happiness I am granted. In new apartments, in a school program, in relationships — even when the end is not perfectly clear, I am always acutely aware that there is an end, and that I won’t like it. The anxiety is certainly not as palpable as when counting down the days to the end of a beach trip, but it exists as a vague warning on the horizon that this joy cannot always be counted on.

We measure life in months and years, weeks and days, but only as a society — only as a convenient system for us all to refer back to. As individuals, we are much more inclined to mark our lives with birthdays, summer vacations, holidays with family, or personal achievements. The passing of a year is felt only insofar as there was a significant change somewhere along the way. Otherwise, we are likely to say that we “don’t even realize” a year has passed. It’s true that a given amount of time can signify a great deal, but it’s certainly not a guarantee.

And perhaps that is why we see events that we so look forward to as so distressingly temporary. We have been trained to measure life and all of its momentous occasions in a system of 24 hours and seven days. A summer spent away at a lake house you fell in love with counts for a very specific percentage of your life lived, a few months’ worth of happiness across a vast expanse of day-to-day that dilutes the pleasure of it. But really, these moments are worth so much more, their significance in our lives proportional to the joy we extracted from every moment. A week spent laughing with friends is worth perhaps seven where we stress about work and forget to call our families.

It’s a challenge, to be sure, but truly indispensable that we learn to see the great moments in our life not for just the week or two we’re allowed to enjoy them, but for the great beauty they added. The few weeks spent with family that I find myself unable to enjoy in the moment for fear of the day when I will have to leave stay with me in a way that a week spent otherwise would not have. That week has added something to my life — given me lovely memories and things learned about people I thought I knew completely — and thus shouldn’t be regarded in strict terms of time spent in a certain place. It’s true that all good things come to an end, but so does life itself — and we should be so lucky to see it filled with moments that make us so happy.

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image – Neal Fowler