Monday, December 17, 2012

The Ashes and the Phoenix

“Every new beginning/ comes from some other beginning’s end.” – Green Day, “Closing Time”

Since ancient times, humans have found comfort in cycles and the measures that structure them. Every day begins anew, fresh with possibility. Every hour. Every second. Days become weeks, the cycle of a year dictated by the stars, the weather, the forces beyond our control that lead us to watch and wonder. The cycle keeps us structured and on course, but it is also a promise: after the winter comes the spring; after the darkness comes the light.

Beginnings and endings are made of promise and fear, hope and disappointment. They signify change in its purest form: the start of a new journey, whether physical or spiritual; a final word, deed or thought to underscore the end of a time, a place, a hope fulfilled or lost. They are the markers by which we measure our lives, our successes and failures, our dreams and disappointments. They are birth and death: literally, figuratively, spiritually.

Though I always intended to write to this topic, recent events have forced me to probe the meaning and purpose of endings and beginnings more deeply. The world frightens me of late. The recent election bred unparalleled hate-speech from all sides of the political spectrum and seeded discontent all across the globe, parting friends and creating enemies instead of encouraging discussion and breeding hope for a brighter future. Violence abounds. Colleagues and students were locked down at my workplace for six hours because of a gunman loose on campus, just a day after the Oregon mall shooting and mere hours before twenty tiny children and six adults were ruthlessly slaughtered at a little school in Connecticut. On a much smaller scale, everywhere I turn this holiday season, people are stealing parking spots, shoving, verbally abusing one another. Is this a temporary madness, or are we, as a society, nearing the end of our cycle?

Is the world truly set to end on December 21st? I generally hold to the argument that the Mayans in charge of calendar duty just ran out of rocks or decided they’d expended enough effort marking time for the generations they would never meet. However, with such rampant hate and disregard for one’s fellow man, such senseless acts of violence and overwhelming grief, sometimes I wonder if perhaps the Mayan calendar doesn’t necessarily signal the end of the world so much as it signals an end to the world as we know it. The death of civility and peace, replaced by a new era of hatred and fear.

Still, I am, at heart, an optimist. Even when life gets rough, I’ve always maintained the mantra that when one door closes, a window opens. Maybe it isn’t always the path we preferred; sometimes it’s the path we didn’t know we needed. Or maybe that window is the only option available, and we have no choice but to jump through. A new start is granted, and for better or for worse, a new course is set. But with so many tragic endings of late, it becomes harder and harder to figure out exactly where to begin again. How do the families of these little children pick up the pieces and move on? How do we all recover and find new hope when the shadows of fear and grief still crowd the edges of our lives?

I don't know the answer to any of these questions. But I do know that we cannot give up. We need to choose, every day, to start over. To make a new beginning out of the night’s ashes. To fill the void of closure with promise, and choose to fulfill that promise. We must choose, as my wise grandmother always said, “to make lemonade from our lemons.” And as we are all shaped by not just our choices, but the choices of others, the onus is upon us to choose wisely and well, in deed and thought, so that we may leave the world a better place than we found it.

As with all things, this year will end. But a new year awaits, a fresh slate upon which to carve the patterns of our dreams. My wish for us all is to find some peace in the present and choose to create a new future full of possibility.

"The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune's spite; revive from ashes and rise." --Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Posted by Kim Vandervort

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Terri-Lynne said...

Damn, woman. Just--damn. Brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for this, my darling friend. XX

Anonymous said...

Great post. I'm glad you're safe. I was down in that area when they locked down the campus and it was insane.

Terri-Lynne said...

Janice--I had no idea you were in that area! I'm glad you stayed safe. You probably blogged about it and I missed it. :(

J.A. Campbell said...

Great words... thank you for sharing.

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Fantastic post, Kim. Thank you for sharing.

Perhaps I am too much of an optimist, but I actually came away from the recent elections with a lot of hope. Despite the politics of hatred, we as a nation made the choice to move forward, to reject the misogynists, homphobes, and racists, and to take additional baby steps toward a friendlier and more open society.

And in recent days, I've seen this nation unite in mourning, and open up to a dialogue about gun control and mental health care that has been long overdue.

True, we paid TOO high a price to come to this moment, but at least we are coming to it. There is always hope.

Forgive me for finishing on a very trivial note -- I've seen the "new beginning" quote attributed to Green Day twice in recent weeks. True, they have released a new interpretation of this wonderful song. But credit for the original lyrics go to Semisonic, a Minnesota band that I've followed for a long time, and that I love very dearly, so I hate to see them not be acknowledged for this wonderful bit of wisdom.

The lead singer of Semisonic, Dan Wilson, originally wrote 'Closing Time' as a song to end concerts with, but half way through the writing, he also realized it was a song about the birth of his first child.

If you'd like to see their video:

Terri-Lynne said...

Karin, after the nastiness of the election, I too came away with hope. I was so scared! But in the end, you're right--we said NO THANKS to the racists, misogynists, homophobes, and right-wing nutters. After a few days, I was glad it was close too, because it made everyone take notice--there are a lot of unhappy citizens, and most of them are not nutters.

I had no idea about Closing Time. I'm going to watch the video now.

Eric T Reynolds said...

Great post, Kim.

Julia said...

Beautiful post, Kim. I'm an optimist too and I agree with Karin--I am hoping that the new "post-Mayan calendar" era might signal the end of a cycle of hatred, fear and xenophobia, and the beginning of a shift to a friendlier, more open, more tolerant and more collaborative society.

A girl can dream...or at least that's what I choose when I can.

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Hey Julia -- There's an old Costa Rican proverb that goes, "It costs nothing to dream." ;)