When does the thrill of starting anew morph
into fear of ending in the same place?
The tide rising to foam along the wharf
with steady ebb and flow fills endless space;
Ever-changing and changeless—motion, time—
beginnings and ends to each other bound.
Life set to order by thought’s measured rhyme;
Life torn apart by storm in feeling found.
When we begin, ready to follow through
again, the end with promise still aglow,
as senses push each looming thought from view,
and there is speed in all that once was slow,
we should be made to think of previous ends—
the past on which the present still depends.
(By Agnieszka Polakowska)
I wake with a heavy heart. The new beginnings which were to fill my heart’s places have been eclipsed by lingering ends.
I had been living in Norfolk, Virginia, for two years when I decided to return to Canada. Though I stayed on for one more year, I knew even then that it was time to go home. Canada – specifically Toronto – was where I belonged and wished to be. Overwhelmingly, I considered my decision an exciting beginning. This in spite of the fact that I was returning to a place where I had already once lived, and that this beginning announced the end of many good things in my American life: the thrill of being an expat; a full-time academic career; a type of freedom that I had not experienced in my homeland; proximity to intriguing travel destinations; and growth through exposure to new people, perspectives, and cultures. My life has been shaped by my many experiences away from home. By returning to Toronto, I was letting go of a set of criteria that has, for so long, defined who I am. I was closing doors in order to open new ones. I thought I would never look back.
So here I am, back in Toronto. While my physical surroundings are unmistakable, my immediate path is out of sight. I am stuck at a crossroads with no clear directions to help me move past this point. The beginnings I had imagined from Norfolk feel, instead, like endings or continuations of what has already begun. I believed I would never teach again. Yet, here I am, teaching in Toronto. My hopes to follow a new professional path now seem distant, if not impossible. I miss the thrilling experiences I had as an expat. The frequent exposure to something new and not mine stimulated my curiosity and accelerated my personal growth by enabling me to detach from situations and see life’s lessons clearly. How do I re-create these experiences in a place that I call home? I can no longer taste the freedom I had in Norfolk. In Toronto, where I have strong emotional attachments, I am viewed through the lens of judgment and expectation. How do I redefine freedom under these new circumstances? How do I balance responsibility to others with the happiness I find in freedom?
Beginnings are endings. Endings are beginnings. My return to Toronto has shown me that beginnings and endings are messy, intertwined, and inseparable. My determination to initiate beginnings has been slowed by stubborn endings, forcing me to look back at my time in Norfolk and to mourn what cannot be found in Toronto. My desire for new beginnings is dampened by unwanted endings and difficult emotions. My enthusiasm is derailed by obstacles both expected and unexpected, reminding me to enable these difficulties to exist peacefully alongside everything that is exciting and effortless. My naïve assumptions about starting anew have been replaced with unmoving truths about the pain of endings and the question of whether endings will ever let me be and whether I will ever wish to let some of them go.
It used to comfort me to envision the process of life’s beginnings and endings as chapters in a book: orderly and smooth. Life’s real chapters, however, are confused and chaotic, and offer no clear signposts along their unkempt paths. Saddened by the loss of a comforting visualization, I fumble and falter through my beginnings and endings with limited visibility.
In my heart and in my mind, I want and then try to sort beginnings from endings. What I dream of is a beginning devoid of depressing endings. In the dream, I am in control and totally immersed in the exhilaration of a beginning, not at all troubled by the pain of what is gone. But, my head tells me, this is the foolish dream of the adult who wants to avoid hardships; the approach is desperate and negates the real ways of the world. The experiences I have gained from accumulated beginnings and endings inform me that my starting points were never clear, nor easy. That I have always been caught between beginnings and endings, and that I have always been vulnerable to their strength. My beginnings are false serenities and my endings are not foregone conclusions. Both are impure, spoiled by irresolutions. My beginnings are my endings; my endings are my beginnings. I cannot have one without the other.
One day, I will ask myself, “What do I remember most?” To this, I want to reply, “My choices.” Though my beginnings disillusion me, I can arm myself against this disillusionment with the strength of my choices. As beginnings and endings interweave, stories unfold. As the main speaker of my life, I envision, create, and tell my stories. Those I wish to recount are filled with courageous choices that move me forward – slowly but surely – through both light and darkness, joy and heartache, comfort and discomfort. Each opposite contains a lesson. Each opposite turns my story into a fable with a moral to it.
Written and photographed by Filomena Calabrese. Edited by Agnieszka Polakowska.