There seems to be something fitting in the relative importance we give to “firsts” and “lasts”. Though the experiential values in the events between these two standards are uniform, or unique depending on the thing, we do tend to place a special emphasis on the bookends.
I suppose that has something to do with our our own mortality. We see repetitive events as milestones in our short lifespans and the “first” is indicative of our own drive to “do something”. A “first” could not have occurred without some level of ambition, and our society puts a premium on ambition. A “first” shows we were at least participatory. A “last” is either the goal, the achievement, or the end of the suffering. Either way, the “last” represents some form of achievement… even if that achievement is the perseverance of suffering. Usually, though, the “last” is kind of a mixed bag. There was some degree of suffering, for what noble goal exists without it? There was also most likely some abject joy in the journey as well, as is often stated, “It is the process not the product”.
Last weekend I had one of my “lasts” that will be occurring this year. To be sure, it is not an accomplishment per se by me, nor was it by any means the end of suffering. It is, however, the end of a long era that has filled me with pride, joy, and gratitude beyond all measure. When it is finally over in the next few months, there will be a level of bittersweetness that I will have to deal with.
The “first” began almost 13 years ago now. Carolyn, my oldest daughter, matriculated at the University of Oregon. We drove her up there and established her in her dorm, I fell in love with the University of Oregon campus, and I dutifully put my yellow “O” sticker on my truck.
I visited her in Oregon a few times during her adventure up there, and watched with pride and astonishment as she grew from a teenager into a beautiful woman, an intellectually curious architect, and a biting and insightful cultural critic.
Because of the eight-year age difference between Carolyn and Chaney, I knew there would be a second round of higher education “firsts” and “lasts” to contend with.
As most of you know, Chaney elected to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point. She is now getting close to completing the fall semester of her Firstie (senior) year. In May she will graduate and commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army.
Last weekend was my “last” parents’ weekend. The next “last” will be graduation in May.
Being there on campus was indeed bittersweet. She and her colleagues have grown so dramatically since they were first dropped off for R Day three plus years ago. They have been forged in the crucible that has minted regular Army officers for the U.S. Army since 1803 and you can literally see them coming into resolution as soon-to-be links in the Long Gray Line.
As I stood at Trophy Point and gazed out onto the Hudson, for what is most likely my last viewing of the fall foliage, I thought about the journey Sandy and I have been on with our girls.
They each are unique and have carved their own path. Yet there is a love, a bond, and an established order between the two. Carolyn is Chaney’s older sister, her protector, her guide and mentor, and Chaney relishes that relationship. Sandy and I… well honestly more Sandy… made it very clear to both girls as they were growing up that they were special and great things would be expected of them. I know we both wanted them to know they would forever enjoy our unconditional love.
They were encouraged to push boundaries, even with us, knowing that the ultimate safety net would always exist below them. We wanted them to be curious, and to be passionate, and to be revolutionary. We wanted them to go completely Thoreau and “suck the marrow out of life!”
In that, I think we have succeeded.
Still “ends” give us pause. The little girls that would run to the mailbox with me have grown up. My first hunting partner now goes to the theatre in the East End, and my second hunting partner marches before her platoon in the Corps of Cadets, and holds her sword, ordering her troops to salute as they pass by the generals during a pass and review ceremony.
But these “lasts” give way to something too… “firsts”.
Chaney turned 21 in September, so for Thanksgiving, Carolyn, and her partner, Alan, are flying in from the U.K., and along with my mother-in-law, and my parents, we are going to drive out to Vegas, where we will meet Chaney. The whole family will be together for the first time in Vegas for Thanksgiving (at the buffet)… a “first” to be sure.