The End is Where We Start From

December 29, 2019

This is my last Sunday as a resident of California. It’s the last Sunday of the year, and the last Sunday of the decade. There’s some kind of poetic significance to this—it all lines up so well. Of course that’s just a story, the dates in and of themselves have no meaning. They have meaning only to me: the story I tell myself. They mark an ending.

In two days my marriage comes to its legal end.

The year ends; the decade ends; my marriage ends; my life in California ends. The narrative is almost too perfect.

At dinner last night with Ray—whose past year has been personally worse than mine with two bouts of cancer and other ailments—he mentioned that his sponsor suggested he look at where he is today, and what he has gone through during the year, as an accomplishment. Victory over poor odds. He’s alive, and looking good, and engaging in his life, out with friends, making plans. These are indeed accomplishments.

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The future remains unknowable.

We are so often overwhelmed with misfortunes small and large that once beyond them we fail to register any success achieved. Things happen. Bad things happen. If we don’t die, aren’t maimed, we go on. We might be different men as a consequence. Maybe we have learned something important. Maybe things just happened. We try not to make bad things worse. That’s a moral obligation we owe ourselves and others.

Where do we go from here? Where do I go from here?

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

I want my life to flow forward without pain, or unhappiness, or poor health, without too limited resources, with the people I hold dear, with someone in my life to love, to be vital, to accomplish things, to be of service to others, to not suffer in death when that time comes.

Most of these plans won’t happen. Life doesn’t work out that way.

Yet I can live a life that manifests itself as meaningful. I can discover my values.

What I can accomplish is taking responsibility: responsibility for myself, my decisions, my responsibilities to others, to work, to my body, to my life. To not make anything worse than it already is. To not let people down.

To found my relationships with others on trust and truth.

To remain sober and committed to a life of sobriety in all its manifestations. To be free to be and free to act. To be there for my sons, for my friends. To do the things that matter. To take responsibility for being.

Her life with me did matter. That she ended it also matters. The end is where we start from.

Everyone says, so common wisdom goes, that fresh starts, new beginnings, are the revitalizing staff of life. They keep us young. They open new doors, new vistas, new horizons. New people enter our lives. What didn’t matter slips away.

I didn’t plan a fresh start. I didn’t plan my marriage to end. I didn’t plan my son to become ill. These things happened.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

What I have learned in sobriety is that accomplishment, however defined, must be for oneself. To do anything solely for someone else is to fail. It’s incomplete. When I first stopped drinking I told myself I did it for my sons, that I would never let them down again, never let my own life’s unmanageability be a burden on them. I did it for them.

And then I realized that, too, was a burden I placed on them, a burden they wouldn’t want. My commitment had to be for me, and being for me, and for me alone, the resulting lightness of being would benefit everyone. That caring for myself relieved them of caring for me. They have their own lives to care for.

That doesn’t mean we don’t care for each other. We care deeply. But it means our care is without strings. It’s free.

I’m sad that my marriage ended. Sad about the idea of marriage ending for me. Right now, I’m not sad not being with her. During the last years of our marriage, indeed three fourths of it, physical and spiritual nourishment wasn’t there. Sex and intimacy are a form of communication; we weren’t communicating. Let go of that negative power. I’m sad that it wasn’t so but that’s what happened.

Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;

The beginning lies on the other side of the country, today in the snow, far, far from this city of hills on the Pacific. There’s a future there that didn’t exist for me before. I don’t know what it is.

That I wanted my future to be here in San Francisco is another story, now a closed chapter in my life. It turned out to be a short story. Life didn’t turn out the way I planned.

Maybe there never was a plan, just a story. She’s part of that story, but no longer part of my life. Let it be.

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

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