“It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop at the end.”
No, I haven’t started skydiving or free-falling (or become suicidal). I still have my feet firmly planted on the ground with no desire for such risky business. And while I can imagine some risk takers might find joy in the fall itself–the exhilaration, the motion, the scenery–I am not that person. I am quite certain I would be so panicked when falling that I would not take note of those things. I would be too aware of the potential or looming “sudden stop at the end.”
Recently, that phrase “the sudden stop at the end” starting playing in my mind, because, though I haven’t been falling, I have been experiencing “sudden stops.”
For example, in both of the varsity sports my son has played this year, his season has abruptly ended with “sudden death,” the term used when a team either wins to move to the next level of tournament play or loses, marking the immediate end of the season. As a parent, I would get so caught up in the final game, it would barely register as the event progressed and our score didn’t keep up with the opponent that the end of the game was that “sudden stop.” The consolation was that we didn’t have to return to the tournament site nearly two hours from our home again; but the resulting free time didn’t feel free, it just felt as if we were missing something.
Two weeks ago I graduated with my master’s in Educational Technology. Having been through graduations at a big university and knowing how many students would be herded through the impersonal process, I wasn’t eager to partake. However, I was eager to meet my online classmates face to face. Eight of the twelve graduating in my specific program traveled to the affair; I was the only one local. Pre-graduation was delightful. We found each other, determined we looked nothing like our profile photos online, and chatted as if we were old friends. We helped each other don caps and hoods correctly, shot group photos, and simply enjoyed meeting for the first time.
We were even eager for the ceremony to begin. We filed in majestically with the hundreds of others, took seats in the designated row, stood when required, sat when expected, sent texts to family and faithful friends in the audience to help them find us, and then made superficial note of the events on stage while we continued chatting, awaiting our turn to parade our achievement across the stage.
(As silly as it seems, that parade made the completion of the degree seem real, though this was the process: Fill out a card with name and phonetic spelling; hand said card to one gowned individual; be held in place by another, then pushed at the exact moment, propelled into one handshake, another handshake, and a third person’s handshake before stepping down stairs to be funneled into line for a photo shoot; have a perfect stranger adjust our hoods; another our positions, telling us to stand on the painted footprints, smile at the camera; click; and return to our seats.)
Having made it across the stage without tripping or otherwise embarrassing ourselves, we were free to ignore the rest of the herd on their journey through the handshakes. And we chatted and talked about courses we had taken, struggles we had had, plans we now had for the future, and more. We stood once more to sing the school’s Alma Mater, arms around each other, joined the final cheer. And then, suddenly, it was over. We hugged quick good-byes and hustled to find our loved ones. The brief moment face to face had reached the sudden stop at the end.
Tomorrow my high school seniors graduate. Our small school will say good-bye to fourteen graduates this year in the best sort of fanfare I know. In the morning, these students will address the student body, their teachers and administration, their parents and other loved ones and say “thank you.” It is a time of both tears and joy. The focus has been on this day for years. Then in the evening, these beautiful teenagers who have touched my heart will parade across their stage–not as one of a herd but as a cherished individual who has garnered our praise and prayers throughout his or her career at the Academy.
We call this celebration “commencement,” which means “a start or beginning.” I admit the term has always baffled me, as I feel graduation marks an end. I know it also marks a beginning, perhaps college, the start of a new life for these seniors. For them, a beginning. But I guess as the teacher of these seniors, it feels more like an end.
And so tomorrow marks yet another “sudden stop at the end.”
I’m not so sure I like it.