Firsts and Lasts

By Peggie Arvidson

Firsts and Lasts

Firsts get a lot of attention, but lasts can sneak up and take your breath away.

What is it about “Firsts” that grabs our attention? You know, “Aw, it’s our first holiday season with the new puppy!” kind of first. There are first kisses that get books and songs written and first days on new jobs and seeing our first byline in print.

Firsts, are like springtime. They pop up and delight us with the scent of something fresh and green in the air. The sky seems bluer and less cloudy when we’re in the season of firsts. Getting to start over is a delightful part of being alive, isn’t it? I think that’s why we track our firsts from Instagram captures to Facebook stories, to good old scrapbook notes.

Firsts, of course, are tied to beginnings. However, they are not tied to being a beginner. No one seems to like being a beginner. I had lunch the other day with a friend who was lamenting the fact that she’d never learned to play the piano and now that she’d inherited one, she really wished she could play. I looked up from my wilted arugula, “Why don’t you take lessons?”

“Lessons!?” her eyes wide and a sheepish grin across her face, “I hate being a beginner.”

That seems the general consensus about being a beginner these days, unless we’re tracking firsts. My friend is never going to play her first sonata and document it on social media if she doesn’t get started, right?

After a year or so of firsts, you find yourself in the long slog of daily-ness. Unless you take off for a new destination or challenge yourself to have a new adventure regularly, you lull yourself into that long, hot summer of getting by. There are good times and messy times, but the shine of firsts dusts over, imperceptibly until one day your finger runs across the cupboard and you realize you haven’t been paying attention to the settling in period until it’s so stagnant you need to whip into a frenzy of cleaning and moving air and energy around.

Lasts, on the other hand, often slip by, unnoticed.

Sure, there are times when you’re preemptively nostalgic, senior year– hanging with your besties and sighing, “Oh, man, this is the LAST time we’ll have to sit through Professor Monaghan’s lecture!” or “Wow! Can you believe this is the last chapter meeting we’ll ever attend?!”  My guess is that the sentiment of pre-emptive lasts is the same today as they were in my day – but with the added pressure to make them photo op worthy. In my day we could lament the passing of time, clink our cans of warm beer and ramble on about how meaningful our time together had been. It wasn’t worth the energy to hunt down a camera to capture the moment. As prematurely as we were anticipating our lasts, we were still present.

Indeed there are other, more difficult lasts that you see coming. You mourn the expected passing of a loved one, years, months and weeks before it happens. You look away for a quick minute as your not so little offspring shows off their last loose tooth. They are jubilant for this rite of passage, and you, a little melancholy, seeing how fast it’s all going.

In these moments it’s hard to be in the present, so focused are we on what we will be missing in the future.

What confounds me are the lasts that sneak up and surprise you. Are these better or worse than the ones you see coming?  I often find myself feeling cheated when I realize that what I thought was an everyday moment was really a last interaction. That the murmurings in our special code happened for the last time when I didn’t know it was the last time.

There is a sense of being cheated out of marking that moment in time that stings in hindsight. There’s also the sense that this is how life is meant to be – ongoing. One big wheel that keeps turning – no real beginning and no real end. It’s only the human condition that seems attached to marking time with labels like first and last.

Here’s to a Spring full of firsts and lasts and moments that you hold dear!

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