On the Fleeting Nature of Things

Sometimes we know when it will be the last time we ever do something. Parent teacher conferences were Thursday, and I’ll never meet with a parent to discuss his child’s progress again. Institute Day was Friday, and I’ll never have to sit through hours of tedious in-service again. Valentine’s Day was last month, as everyone knows, and I’ll never have the chance to make valentines, or receive them from my class, again.

But, sometimes we don’t know when it is the end of something. When was the last time I ever wrote with a piece of chalk on a blackboard? Used transparencies on an overhead projector? Ordered films which came in tin canisters and had to be threaded reel-to-reel? More importantly, when was the last time my son jumped into my arms where I then shifted him onto my hip for easier holding? When was the last time I drove through Paris, or kissed my first husband, or played a Bach fugue on the piano with authority?

Billy Graham’s funeral was yesterday in Charlotte, North Carolina, and his children will not see him again as long as they are on earth. He made it to his last destination. And I am considering good-byes today. Remembering, or trying to remember, all the things which have passed by or transitioned into something new. Thinking about all the things of which I will have to let go.

Probably it is healthiest to welcome the changes that have come into our lives. But I am a nostalgic person by nature, and I am sad about things gone by to which I never had the chance to say farewell. I never had the sense to know it would be the last time.

24 thoughts on “On the Fleeting Nature of Things”

  1. I remember writing with chalk on blackboards, using OHTs, banda machines (did you have those in the States?) – early tech for making multiple copies of handouts using a kind of carbon master and a rotating drum; the solvent smelt wonderful. Last times are poignant – but we never really know when most of them (are going to) happen. When they do, they have a sort of unreal quality, don’t they.

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    1. I have not heard of the term “banda machine” before. We had something that I think you are describing called a mimeograph machine, with a rotating drum and fluid which in an odd way smelled delicious, and it made the purple-colored copies a little wet at first.

      Last times do have an unreal quality, but they are especially bittersweet to me as they pass by so quickly, and often unnoticed. But, maybe that’s a good thing. We can’t spend our lives saying good-bye to things every day. What a horror that would be!

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  2. I’m nostalgic too, and often think of things that never will be again. But, as you say, it’s not healthy to dwell on what cannot return. At least we have our memories, which can call these things to mind when we need a break from the present, when we need to remember. And I hope that one day these memories will bring a me smile, instead of sadness for what has come and gone. Thank you for sharing a little of yourself in this post. xo

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    1. Thank you for reading the post, and leaving a comment, Jess. I think that for those of us who are nostalgic, keeping a memory book of some kind (be it journal or photo album or composite of both) is helpful. But then the issue becomes what to do with all the compiled books? I have so many, and this year I tossed out two cardboard boxes filled with journals of pain I didn’t want to reread (relive?) ever again. It was quite soothing to dispose of them, even though we can’t fully dispose of whatever it is, or was, that has hurt us. Dwelling on the happy memories is surely a lovely thing to do, as is rereading cards and letters from friends or loved ones.

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  3. I am also nostalgic, but I love the excitement of change, as well. I remember all those “last times” as we prepared to sell our house, retire from our jobs, pack up all our belongings and move to Oregon. It was bittersweet, but oh, so worth it! I can look back on my job as a bookseller for ten years at B&N and remember (mostly with fondness) the customers, co-workers and joy of helping people find the perfect book. I miss parts of that job, but I am so happy where I am today that I would hate to go back. I believe your next adventure is just around the corner, too. xoxo

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    1. Lesley, you are one of the poster children for a successful retirement! I love how you have embraced change and the challenge of new. I love how you have a fresh beginning in Oregon, and your thoughts and pictures give me great hope about my retirement to come. Although we won’t be moving, we will take a trip to Japan in October, and I’m so excited for that! I’m excited to embark on new adventures even though I’ll miss the structure and purpose of my teaching career so much.

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  4. I agree that your next adventure could be around the corner. I was sad to leave my library job, but I continue to volunteer and still help out at the same branch where I worked. I also have had time to explore other areas for volunteering. You never know what might appeal to your and you are so talented, there will be something that might work.

    I do appreciate your sharing of this most poignant post. The picture of when you were last able to put your son on your hip made me think of the same thing with my daughter. The memories are sweet though. Big hugs!

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    1. They are sweet memories, aren’t they Kay? When our children were small? I could rethink on them over and over, and yet if I was completely honest with myself I remember plenty of times when I was impatient. I wish I could have a “do over” in that respect, as if that would help me appreciate all I had and not be impatient any more.

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  5. I think it is better not to know something is the last time. I don’t like goodbyes at all. I pray I’m not one of those dying people surrounded by family. I know most people think that’s the best, but I couldn’t bear it. Just a quick little heart attack. Over and out, please. Already things are passing by with the grandchildren. It seems a minute ago they arrived, and now I can barely lift them, let alone carry them around for ages. It goes faster than with children. These are all deep Pisces thoughts. This is the time we kind of take stock of all our thoughts and feelings, and then when Aries (spring) comes we begin afresh. Lovely, thoughtful posting. I think I would have been a ‘go ahead and fire me, but I want my chalkboard!’ kind of teacher. haha

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    1. Yes, I agree that if one had to choose between knowing and not knowing, I’d definitely take the later. I think it’s one of God’s gifts to us that we don’t know when it is that we will die ourselves, or lose someone that we love. I would be in dread every day, and instead we are given a peace that comes from not knowing but trusting in His timing. For me, anyway. And things with children simply fly by! I love the pictures that you post of your dear grandchildren. They seem so sweet, and I know you are cherishing each moment together.

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  6. My mother died three weeks ago so I am thinking along these lines too but I am also thinking of all the first time things I have yet to do. They are out there. Let’s think forward and wonder what first time things we’ll do and enjoy before they too become last time things.

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    1. Your comment reminds me of Les’ in that there is always a fresh beginning, something new to grab and experience. Yes, let’s think forward and embrace what is to come rather than be like Lot’s wife and waste time looking behind too long, or too frequently. And, of course, I am so sad for the loss of your mother as I tried to express on your blog. xoxox

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  7. That’s one of the toughest things to deal with, I think. Everything flows, all the time, and yet we seem to need to cling to things and believe they’re solid. The good thing is that even when things are gone, they live on in both your own memory and those of others. And the good thing for a teacher is that those memories will live longer in all those young minds 🙂 I still remember my favourite teachers and some of the things they said or did that affected me, and I’m sure your ex-students will too, for longer than you can know.

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    1. I like how you said we “need to cling to things and believe they’re solid.” I do! I need to feel that somehow that I am living in a world I can control (?) a little more than I actually can. I need to believe that things are more solid than they are, and yet I come down to very few things being as solid as I want. Ironically enough, my faith is solid. My love for my family is solid. I pray that the positive effect I’ve had on all these dear children is solid. Probably each of us can remember our favorite teachers, and the way that they affected us (just as I can remember those who scared me!). It means a lot that you would take the time to leave your thoughts in a comment here. Thank you.

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  8. Endings, goodbyes, last times have frightened me all my life. I deal with them through promises of brand new adventures, brand new people, new friendships, exotic smells, atmospheres I couldn’t concoct. Yes, they sometimes disappoint but I would never believe that until proven. All my life I have been standing on tiptoe holding my breath for the next, the NEXT. I am surprised out of my skin to have come to a stage where my nexts are few. There is a certain comfort in the usual, the ordinary. Certainly the pain of ending has shriveledged as I contemplate my own! Mjh

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