the look back.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

In the time I've been writing, I've spent a lot of time writing about endings and beginnings.

The two go hand-in-hand, and seem to be a consistent part of life for 20somethings. I've written about the end of summers at camp, the finish line of high school, various ends and beginnings of adventures of Westmont, and once again, I find myself writing about the ending of a significant experience in my life.

Two weeks ago I graduated from Westmont College, and in the space between then and now, I've thought a lot about how I wanted to frame and process this pretty significant end. Would I write about the transformation that took place over four years on a beautiful campus nestled in the hills of Montecito? Or about the people who shaped my life, for better or for worse, as I walked through the ups and downs of "the college years." Maybe I would write about significant seasons, for the past years have been full of them, and what they taught me and how I will use that in the future. It seemed as though there is too much to write about, but I decided to take a different route.

The look back.

Whenever I physically leave a place that means a lot to me, I look back. Not figuratively, on the time I spent in said place, but I literally look back. I turn my head to look at the driveway, the entrance gate, the large sign, the familiar front yard, as the car drives away, until I can't see it anymore. I always have. When I left Calvin Crest after an incredible few weeks as a camper, or an entire summer as a staff member, I would look back to the entrance sign and think about when I would be able to go back next. When I left Dinuba for college, I looked back at the driveway and front yard I had spent 18 years of my life, thinking the next time I would see it would be in November for thanksgiving. I did the same when I left for Istanbul, and when I left Istanbul, I remember looking back over the streets of the city, cast in the pale moonlight as our bus drove us to the airport in the middle of the night, wishing I had just a little more time left in the city.

When I left Westmont for the final time as a student, I looked back again. To the brick entry sign that read the name of the academy I spent the last four years. I looked back as our car drove down Cold Springs road, one last time filled with my dorm room belongings, as we headed home after a busy graduation weekend.

Graduating college was...interesting.

Of course, the accomplishment is huge. I finished! I did it! Hooray! Walking out of my last undergraduate final was a relief I have never felt before. Wearing my cap and gown for the first time, the congratulatory messages, everything made me feel like I had accomplished something huge - and I did. My heart was full with joy.

But my heart was also filled with other emotions.

Once I began packing up my room, once I saw the reality of the finish line, I started feeling...not okay. Fearful of the future, scared about endings, apprehensive of moving on, frightened that I was unable to do anything other than be a college student. But somewhere in between receiving my first "padfolio" and finally taking down my dorm decor, I came under the impression that these feelings were just nerves, and shouldn't be taken seriously. After all, graduation is supposed to be a happy occasion, right? That's exactly what people told me - why be sad? You've accomplished something amazing, why are you so upset about this?

But in between the joy of finally finishing, comes the deep, heavy feeling, of "I don't want to go." And for some reason, we are told not to validate that feeling. That when we feel apprehension over leaving something, over being sad, we are told to look on the brighter side, to the good instead of the bad.

News flash folks, it's okay to be sad about an ending. It's okay to feel fearful over leaving something familiar. You don't have to cover up this container of feelings of a sheet of "positive outlook" foil. Because like the week-old stir-fry leftovers, covering them up with a sheet of foil might mask the unsightly appearance, and smell of what lies underneath, but only when you take off the foil and deal with the food itself will it finally be gone from your refrigerator.

I'm tired of living in a society that doesn't let people experience the sad and heavy parts of life.

Looking on the bright side, that isn't a way to validate and work through the hard things in life. It avoids the tragedy, the sickness deep within all of us, and it doesn't really work. Of course, we can't spend our entire lives focusing on the negative, but it's important to affirm what we truly feel, rather than trying to convince ourselves we feel otherwise. And personally, that was graduation for me. I loved being able to say, "I finished!" but I also wish I could have just sat down with someone and honestly said, "I'm not sure I feel so happy about finishing."

So recent grads, if you are feeling the same way, be affirmed in your emotions.
You aren't alone.

And as endings come and go, these feelings will return.
It is the inevitable part of life, we aren't going to be able to escape the paradox of emotions that come with endings and beginnings, so we might as well embrace them.

When I think about the complex experience of the look back, I think of this poem by Wendell Berry.

Always in the big woods when you leave familiar ground 
and step off alone into a new place there will be, 
along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, 
a little nagging of dread. 

It is the ancient fear of the unknown, 
and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. 

What you are doing is exploring. 
You are undertaking the first experience, 
not of the place, but of yourself in that place. 

It is an experience of essential loneliness, 
for nobody can discover the world for anyone else. 
It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves 
that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, 
and we cease to be alone.

Take a look back, and realize where you are now is where you are meant to be. 
What are you feeling is what you are meant to feel.

As we all head off into our own respective "wildernesses" (perhaps my favorite metaphor for post-grad life thus far), know you are not alone. 

Respectfully submitted,


  1. Leah. This is still totally your year! And this post nailed it on the head. I'm excited to follow your blog and see what great things you will be doing in the future! You are so awesome!