When I was a kid, my dad and I would have a catch every once in a while. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but every week or so, we’d grab our gloves and go out and throw the ball around in the street, right in front of our row-house. As a result of this ritual, and also as a result of the narrowness of Houston Road, I learned how to open manhole covers and sewer tops with the back of my heels, an essential life skill for would be hurlers blessed with my kind of control.
As time went by, the catches became less frequent and then they gradually stopped altogether. I’m not exactly sure when or why this happened, and I didn’t particularly notice at the time. I guess I had other things on my mind. But it hit me one day when I was in my 20’s, that my dad and I no longer played catch. And I realized, too, that years earlier, on the day of that last catch, we didn’t know at the time that, when we threw our gloves in the back of the closet, that that would be our final toss. It was an invisible, unconscious moment.
A decade later, I was a dad myself, and at one point, my wife and I had 5 kids under the age of 7 and ½. Ours was a noisy, messy, semi-chaotic house. It was also a lot of fun. I’m told Bill Clinton was once president, but I have almost no recall of those 8 years. I was just a zombie. What I do remember, though, was that our daily routine involved giving the kids baths each night before bedtime. As they got older, of course, they became more independent, thank God, and they eventually moved on to the joys of showers. Before I knew it, it was just Mr. Bubble and me in the tub. In hindsight, again, I didn’t realize the finality in the water of that last bath. I didn’t quite get the fact that there would be no more rubber duckies riding shotgun for me.
Whether it’s having a catch with a parent or running a bath for your kids, the daily elements of life often change without our being conscious of that change. We don’t notice the slow morphing of an ordinary moment. We aren’t aware of the fact that one stage is ending, even as another begins. In the daily drama of our lives, rituals slowly dissolve before our eyes, and often we don’t so much as blink at the change.
That is not the case, though, when changes are abrupt. Take, for example, two activities from this week with our drama and athletic teams. There is a certain, inevitable rhythm to their scheduled flow. Games and plays conclude. Runs and seasons end. We are profoundly aware of their finality. And we all move on. Whether we want to or not.
Late Wednesday night, after the last football game, a reflective IB2 boy told me, “Of course, I’d rather have won today, but it’s not the losing that really gets me. I got emotional at the end of the game. I felt like crying as the clock wound down those last few seconds. It hit me that I’ve been playing football since I was 8. It’s what I did all those years. And this afternoon, I realized that with 30 seconds left, it was all coming to and end. That part of my life is all over.”
The actors involved in “No Exit” will have the same experience next Sunday evening. After all the time, the energy, the rehearsals, the work, you will take your last bow, and you will walk off the stage, and it will be over. You may have the opportunity to break up the set on Monday, but that will only reinforce the notion of finality.
In the months ahead, the same cycle will play itself out on the debaters, musicians, and stewards. There is eventually a last concert, a culminating competition, a final event, and you are done. You can hum “Glory Days” all you want, but it won’t stop the clock, and it won’t bring back the time.
As painful as these realizations may be, and I don’t want to minimize them in any way, they are a blessing. In a youth-worshipping, death-denying culture, it is good to have these not-so gentle reminders that nothing lasts forever. Knowing that there is a final act is a sobering but necessary realization. There are no 1,000 year-old men in our Old Boy directory. Not even at UCC. Life is limited. Grade 11 may feel like it goes on forever, but that’s only a temporary feeling. It, too, will end.
It’s cliché to say “seize the day,” but we do need to grasp the small moments and recognize what we often take for granted: the encouragement of a friend, success on a test, a family dinner, the camaraderie of a team.
That’s especially important this time of year when darkness grows, and the cold night air hints at endings. If, near the end of the year, you ask a grade-12 student to speak at an assembly, odds are he’ll talk about how he wished he’d gotten more involved, taken more risks, participated in more clubs or teams. While he’s ready to move on, what he’d really like, in his heart of hearts, is just a little more time.
Our IB2 football player grasped all of this with 30 seconds to go in his final high school game. His realization is ours, and it’s a dope slap of a blessing, but it might be just what we need to remind ourselves of the ordinary and wonderful moments that are all around us – if only we have the will to recognize them for what they are.