When I was little, my mom used to read me a book called Very Last First Time. It was about an Inuit girl, Eva, in northern Canada who collected mussels on the bottom of the ocean floor with her mother (when the tide was out, of course). The story follows Eva’s first experience going under the ice alone. When she surfaces, she says, “That was my very last first time for walking alone on the bottom of the sea.”
Maybe that story is what did it. They say you’re in your formative years until you reach age twelve or so, easily impressionable, soaking up knowledge like a sponge. It’s quite possible that Eva’s declaration of having a “very last first time” subliminally stuck with me throughout my adolescence and even into adulthood, tuning my mind to place grand significance on normal events.
I was the person who reflectively slow-walked down my high school’s hallways at the end of senior year, signed my name (and a good sized novella) on the shelf in my Oxford bedroom, and cried like a baby during “The Office” finale, even though I hadn’t watched the show in about two years (everyone knows it went downhill after Jim and Pam had their baby…). Though not a highly emotional person, I am sentimental.
And I always count the lasts.
It’s probably masochistic, making myself sad for no good reason. But I kind of have to. Maybe it’s my coping mechanism. Maybe it’s how I fully appreciate the life I’ve been given. Or maybe I’m just obsessed with turning my life into a storybook like the ones flooding my room. In a way, that’s kind of what counting your lasts is: a method of folding down one chapter so you can open up the next.
Well, my next is quickly approaching…in four months to be exact. In four months, I’ll graduate from college, move somewhere (hopefully), get a job (hopefully). With no current plans to pursue a higher degree, I will officially be out in “the real world,” which I’ve heard is all at once scary and annoying and freeing and exciting. We’ll see. But for now, my job is to enjoy my remaining semester, cherish my friends, and soak in all my precious lasts.
So tomorrow I count my very last first day of school. I won’t be reading children’s books or carrying a lunchbox or waiting by the carpool lane. I won’t be scrunching my backpack into a locker or racing the school bell to class. But for the very last first time, I’ll still be a student, carrying a two-ton bag over my shoulder and looking both ways before I cross the street. I’ll eat lunch with my friends and try to stay awake in that brutal, post-lunch afternoon class as I stare down the slightly crooked clock on the wall. I’ll take notes like a maniac (always) and ask questions and learn.
And I’ll let myself be sad for a moment, because I think that’s ok. It is sad. A massive chunk of my life—ALL of my life thus far, actually—coming to a close. But it’s reassuring to know that learning is the one thing that never stops. No, in a few short months we seniors won’t be in school anymore. But as long as we have books, discussion, and the world at our fingertips, learning goes on.
Because school isn’t a building or a place or a section of the calendar year. It’s a frame of mind, a willingness to listen, a hunch that what you know is never enough. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll be going to school every day for the rest of my life, and tomorrow is just another step on the journey.