Is the glass half-full, or half-empty? All our lives we’re haunted with these perspectival questions that determine what we can be classified as: pessimists or optimists, realists or idealists. These questions can become especially prevalent at this time of year — finals are over, it’s the cusp of summer and we’re packing every item we own into boxes, stuffing pillow cases full of socks and the teddy bear we don’t want to admit we brought to college, and garbage bags with empty alcohol bottles and notes that we took so painstakingly in class but are rendered useless now. It’s hard to see ourselves boiled down to a minivan-trunk-full of boxes and feel any kind of uplifting optimism, and we find ourselves asking — is this an ending or is it another beginning?
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
-William Shakespeare, Sonnet LX
The entire idea of an ending has a certain inevitability that is hard to escape. All things must end, our childhood ends when we go off to college, get our first real job and enter the real world, exploding outwards like we’ve just been thrown from a violently revolving door and are expected to keep up. As Shakespeare describes, even something as seemingly endless as the ocean experiences an ending when its waves break on the shore, and we’re pretty minuscule in comparison to all that water.
There are many kinds of endings, my personal favorite being the ever-elusive “happy ending”. The entire concept of a happy ending seems to be a paradox in and of itself — if it’s so happy, it wouldn’t end, would it? Wouldn’t I remain infinitely happy forever? I guess if the Twilight saga has taught us anything it’s that infinity only creates tortured souls, but it seems to me that a happy ending is indicative of just that — happiness ending. Prince Charming and the Princess may get married at the end of the movie, but I’ll bet their marriage isn’t all they thought it was cracked up to be.
Then you have the endings that leave you wanting more, like the feeling you get after turning the very last page of a good book — you have a feeling of accomplishment and yet a small, bothersome yearning has taken root in your brain like a seedling, and it needs to be fed more of the story. This is the ending we can best deal with as humans — it’s in our nature to constantly want more, so it’s easy to suppress this yearning and continue on.
Then comes the kind of ending that we are most familiar with — the ending that shatters your well-being in a way that makes you feel like it is just that — The End. The end of a relationship can plunge us in a downward spiral of unhappiness — and when it comes to this kind of ending, how can we find any sort of positive spin? How can we see a beginning when the most obvious aspect of our lives is this ending?
The wave that breaks on the shore doesn’t just dissipate into nothing. It collects itself and rolls back out to sea to become something new, to begin a new wave that could be even better than the last. There’s something exciting about an ending that’s sometimes difficult to think of when we are faced with it, and this excitement is always there — just looming with potential.
Shakespeare reminds us that everything continues onward, that our lives are full of this amazing forward motion. In the case of an ending this constant forward motion of the waves to the shore can be harnessed and used to our advantage. You’re moving back home for the summer? Set goals, reinvent yourself, take the time to do things you are passionate about and don’t dwell on the fact that you are leaving the beautiful Ann Arbor or living under your parent’s roof. You’re experiencing a bad break up? Clearly that person wasn’t right for you, so don’t fight it, go with the flow and see how it carries you to new opportunities. It’s important to remember that with every ending comes a new beginning, and the only place to go is forward.
Paige Pfleger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.