Those folks who know me know what a great year my younger daughter had in kindergarten last year. And, they know what a great year I had as a regular volunteer in my daughter’s kindergarten class. As the year drew to a close I became increasingly sad. I wasn’t ready for the year to end. How was I going to say goodbye to kindergarten?
I asked my daughter’s teacher how he dealt with the end of each school year and he replied, “Nothing lasts forever.”
I get where he was coming from. It’s true, kindergarten couldn’t last forever and time inevitably marches onward whether or not we are ready to fall in line. Something fell flat with me about that response though. It seemed so….permanent. High School had ended, and college and graduate school after that. But even though they ended they lived on- through memories and lessons learned, sure, but most importantly through the continued relationships with people who were and still are important to me.
Last year, I was privileged to spend time with 24 amazing kindergarten students who reminded me that that the world is a curious place that we should never stop exploring. They reminded me too, that a little bit of kindness goes a long way. Their smiles and hugs brightened my days. That they wanted to share their stories, jokes, and secrets left my heart feeling like it could burst from all the love I felt for those children. To just walk away from all of that with a “nothing lasts forever” seemed impossible.
It turns out I didn’t have to worry. I am still a volunteer at my daughter’s school and I see the kids from her class last year all the time. I still get hugs when I pass them in the hallway; they wave wildly at me from across the cafeteria; they still pull me aside to tell me a joke or a story or a secret.
When you think about it, it’s not necessarily the experiences that we have that are important but the people that we share those experiences with. Relationships based on shared experiences connect us on a human level and allow us to understand each other better. These places where our lives intersect with one another’s- where our paths cross, whether for an hour, a day, a month, a year, or a lifetime, are opportunities to learn from each other, to accomplish together, to support one other, and to recognize that we are all greater than the sum of our parts.
I guess we could just have these experiences, form these connections, and then just part ways never to speak to each other again. Sometimes, we don’t have a choice. People pass away or for reasons we are never privy to just decide to not be part of our lives. Even then I wouldn’t say that nothing lasts forever. Once someone has found their way into my heart they stay there forever right along with the things I learned from them and the ways that I changed because of them.
I suppose the ‘nothing lasts forever’ people have their reasons for being that way. Maybe for some folks it’s just too hard to look forward and backwards at the same time. Maybe it’s an ‘out of sight out of mind’ kind of thing. Whatever their reasons I have no choice but to respect how they feel.
However, I am not a ‘nothing lasts forever’ person. I am a ‘keep people forever’ person. If you are someone I call a friend or someone with whom I have shared a meaningful experience or conversation; if you are someone who has showed me or members of my family kindness or have inspired me to be a better person then I’m going to keep you forever. And if I can’t keep you as a fixture- as someone who wants to be an active part of my life in some way then I will keep you in my heart- forever. That’s just who I am.
In my opinion, a more accurate statement would be that that nothing stays exactly the same forever. Kids grow up, friends move away, jobs end, people die. Things do change and we have no choice but to change with them. But we do get to choose the people that we keep for as long as we want to keep them. When we are especially lucky, those people choose to keep us too and those relationships are tremendously special. It doesn’t matter if we see those people every day, once a year, or communicate with them only through letters, emails, or social media. The important thing is that we find ways to stay connected and keep the conversations going. The love and support that I feel from my friends who are hundreds or thousands of miles away is no less powerful than the love and support of my friends who live in my neighborhood- even if I haven’t physically laid eyes on them in years.
In the words of John Keats, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.”
Things may change but that does not mean they disappear. The experiences we share, the connections we make, the conversations we have, the friendships we forge, the love we give and receive- all these things inspire and change us. They shape who we are, who we become, they help to create the legacies we leave behind- forever.