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Don’t live for lasts

| Monday, December 6, 2021

I’ve been thinking a lot about lasts lately. So have my friends. As a senior, it’s pretty natural to be at least a little preoccupied by endings — they’re everywhere. Last football games as students, last fall semester, last Christmastime on campus, last day of classes, even. I think the fall-to-winter switch lends itself to lasts as well, the subtle fading of the year helping me to wax always nostalgic about comings and goings and change. But the other thing I’ve noticed is how different everyone’s approach to lasts is. Some people are hyper conscious of lasts, trying to remember, document and make the most of every moment. One of my friends in particular finds the focus on lasts annoying — their argument is that if you are too focused on the fact of the “last” in the moment, what kind of memories are you making anyway? For others the lasts go relatively unmarked, just one more moment in the stream of life in a typically busy and bustling semester.

It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot, in light of my awareness of certain endings: What way is the best to react to lasts? I’m not big on change and tend to invest a lot emotionally in specific times and places, and even the look, feel or smell of those places in particular moments — my childhood room, a particular triangle of trees on campus, one specific springtime viewing of the 2005 “Pride and Prejudice” — inextricably tying them to my memories, cherished for their emotional value in my life narrative. In particular, I remember the Christmas of my senior year of high school. I’m the oldest in my family and the whole holiday I was so, so, so aware of it being my last Christmas — our last Christmas — at home before I was much more absent from my family’s day-to-day life. I moped around thinking about how we were never going to have Christmas like this again — very bleak and dramatic of me, being all of 17 and worried about the insurmountability of the passage of time (big sigh for effect) and the way we can never reclaim the past. Looking back at that Christmas now, it’s no wonder that the moping is what I remember most. Not the time I spent with my family, or the annual screening of our favorite three Christmas movies (because no other Christmas movies exist, right?), though I do remember those moments too. Instead, it’s the emotional turmoil of being acutely aware of this sort of created last Christmas that really stands out, leaving its imprint on those memories. And now, at Christmastime four years later, with a different graduation and set of life changes looming, just a little, I’m on the verge of falling down that lightly ridiculously fatalistic emotional rabbit hole once again, despite knowing that every Christmas since leaving for college has been just as merry and bright as those that came before.   

So what’s the solution? How do I keep from making every moment about what that moment stands for, rather than living in the moment itself? Everyone talks about presentness, that you want to be present in the moment.  But what is that really? What is presentness? How is it achieved or defined? What does it feel like in the moment? Does an active striving for or awareness of presentness pull you out of the present moment such that you are no longer “present”? These are the sort of circles my mind runs around in, and I don’t have any answers (if anyone has advice, send it my way). If anything, perhaps this is just a little reminder to myself to be aware that maybe living for the feeling of the past, or wanting to make the past in the present moment isn’t the best philosophy, and makes for mopey Christmas memories.  

So yes, as a sort of fittingly irresolute resolution, the senior facing the end of her last-first-semester is preoccupied with endings. How cliche: It’s been done and done and redone and there will be many other columns, from other writers, in this reflective vein throughout the year — have no fear.  We all tend to be conscious of at least the big lasts and the way they make us reevaluate our own status quo. And I’m not trying to be bleak, dramatic 17-year-old me either, because I realize endings bring growth and the chance for new beginnings. For me at least, this column maybe gives me a little space to figure out how to acknowledge lasts and endings, to give them their proper moments, without letting the sense of last take over, giving them too much power. And with that in mind, I’m looking forward to this Christmas for the last that is, and for the time it will give me with my family, last or not.

You can contact Abby at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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