What to do when you reach the end

Today was the first day of my last week of college classes. Ever.

I don’t know how to feel about that. My boss asked me today if I was excited about it, and I said, “Yes! But I don’t think the panic has set in, yet.” He waved his hand and said, “I’m not worried about you.”

Yeah? Well. I am.

I almost wish that somebody would have told younger me about how it feels to get to this moment. I almost wish somebody would have taken Freshman Me by the shoulders and said, “Look, you’ve got a little less than four years to have the time of your life, but then you have to grow up. You’re going to have to figure out your life. You’re going to have to push off the wall and dive, and nobody’s going to come after you with a pool floatie or a life vest when you resurface (if you resurface). So… don’t mess this up.”

Don’t mess this up.

Over the past four years, I have written 75 essays, 4 short stories, 14 individual scenes, and 1 full-length play—all for different classes at USC. I worked 4 internships. I wrote a novel and a half in my spare time. By the standards of my school and most of the rest of the world, I did okay.

But then I think back, because I can’t help it. I think back to when I left behind the 95,357 people of my Colorado town for a city of 3.8 million strangers. I think about the faces of all of the friends I’ve met, the friends I’ve loved, the friends who have loved me.

I think about tonight, when I met with the girls in my small group for the last time this semester. We went to the Grove outdoor shopping center up in Beverly Hills, stuffed ourselves full of $12 nachos from the Farmer’s Market (they were really good nachos), and played “guess the price of this floppy mushroom hat” in Anthropologie. Then when the night ended and it was time to leave, all eight of us stood in a circle and stared at each other.

“Well, I guess this is it,” somebody said, scuffing her boots on the sidewalk. “Let’s… let’s take a picture!”

We did. Then we went back to staring, not knowing what to do, what to say.

Across the group stood a girl I’ve known for four years. She met my eyes and grinned. “Samantha, haven’t we been in the same small group since we were sophomores?” I nodded. Goodbyes are too heavy, so we collapsed into a group hug to hold ourselves up.

“It’s been a great semester,” someone said.

“Yeah,” we all agreed.

Eight semesters ago, we were different people, and to me, this week has begun to feel a little like the end of something important. But it’s also the start of something.

Tonight we held each other, but tomorrow we will break apart. In a few weeks, we will scatter across the world. Our lives will change forever, but the world will be the same one we were living in before.

And I remember that I’m not in this alone.

I think back, and I know I didn’t mess this up. I made a mess—over and over I made messes, and sometimes they were good messes and sometimes they were messes that I couldn’t fix by myself. I had to relearn how to ask for help. More than once, I lost my way, but Someone always led me back.

This is the beginning of something big, something we’ve never done before. And even if the world around us remains the same, we can feel that change is coming. So we will pause and hold each other. We will inhale peace and exhale love. The old season is passing away, the new one is coming alive.

There is a time for everything under the sun, and the Light of the World has risen over us. There is a time to plant, and a time to uproot. There is a time to tear down, and a time to build. There is a time to hold on, and a time to let go.

So this is what to do when you reach the end; you sing really loud in the car when Cursta is blasting Switchfoot’s new album and Shannon is only half-seriously counting the other drivers on the road who are singing, too.

You pretend like nobody’s around when Erika starts to shuffle dance in Forever 21, and then you shuffle dance right along with her. You talk about your dreams when Shakay tells you she thinks it’s important to follow your heart, and you swallow your impatience with the man in the courtyard when he asks Loveth to repeat the name of her field of study for the third time (and she smiles and does). You laugh in the group photos Elle takes and you don’t look away when Rebekah’s eyes start to shine with goodbyes.

You don’t think too far back.

You don’t think too far ahead.

Because I know now, why nobody told me how this feels; nobody could tell me. And nobody should tell me. This is my last week of something that changed me forever, and I will savor this moment. It won’t be here for long.

Samantha Chaffin

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10 thoughts on “What to do when you reach the end

  1. Kim says:

    This post made me a little tearful, remembering my final week of college too. Because even though you’re totally right about no one being able to tell you ahead of time how this moment will feel, once you’ve felt it, you’re in a club with everyone else who came before.

    I wish I had been blogging then (yep, that wasn’t a thing. Gawd, I’m old, but not old) to capture that moment. I’m sure I hung out with friends (the group collasped over the four years, so it was more like I did a lot of final celebrations with individual friends or couples), felt exremely tired, sad, relieved, eager. During finals week, I packed up my posters and clothes, stripping the dorm clean. Never to return. And then I threw all my energy into making sure my friend had the courage to talk to a guy she liked, who worked at the park. Time well spent. They ended up marrying 🙂

    I guess I don’t have anything useful to say, except that I’ve been there. Hold on to that week as tightly as you can and enjoy every bittersweet second of it. Take pictures of the buildings you frequented. Explore the parts of campus you always wished you couldwander (I know I did. Totally worth it).

    I’m excited to see where you end up next 😀

    • samchaffin says:

      OMG that story about getting your friend to talk to the guy at the park is SO CUTE. I’m so glad it paid off (and I hope you told that story at their wedding. She owes you one, haha).

      And thank you for your empathy, m’dear. 🙂 I really appreciate it. Great idea to take pictures of buildings I’ve frequented and explore campus. I haven’t really done that since freshman year… and now it’s just occurring to me that I might not be able to do it again for who knows how long!

      Thanks! I am, too. 🙂

      • Kim says:

        Their wedding was nicely done, but missing a few staples, like the speech moment. To make up for it, we often rehash that last week to each other whenever we hang out, and I always give her daughter a knowing smile, mwahaha (it’s fun. Indulge me, haha).

        Yes! I took tons of pictures my freshman year too, but it’s nice ot take pictures again your last year. You’ll chose different places and angles because you’ve got so many more memories 🙂

  2. Aubrey Cann says:

    This post is AWESOME. So beautiful! I graduated college 4 years ago, and this really took me back to my final weeks there. You describe the feelings of that time so accurately and artfully. Not an easy thing to do. If you haven’t written a contemporary YA or NA yet, you need to! It would be so good. You have the perfect voice for it.

    Good luck wherever life takes you next!

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