It’s the last pitch thrown, the final swing of the bat, the ultimate run around the bases. It’s the sound of “Pomp and Circumstance” as children cross the threshold marking another milestone and parents weep conspicuously in their seats. It’s a ceremony commemorating years of achievements while peering off into the distance at the next challenge ahead. It’s saying goodbye to a teacher who watched you grow up before her very eyes over consecutive academic years. It’s a time to reunite with old friends and some ghosts in the place where you all came of age.
June is a time to say goodbye. As the academic year ends, we toast achievements and mark milestones. If spring is a time of hope and opportunity, the transition from spring to summer is a twilight zone between looking back and looking forward. This past week, five such experiences came together for me.
Rocco ended another Little League season. It’s an exhausting two months, but it’s worth it to know you might have instilled a love of the game you love so much in the next generation, maybe even your son. And on a perfect spring evening, you might get lost in the moment and be convinced you’re in Heaven.
I watched my mentee through the NJ LEEP program receive tons of well deserved accolades at an awards dinner while preparing to move on to Vassar this fall. I was reminded how much giving is a gift to both sides. I got such fulfillment out of the small amount of help I was able to provide, and it moved me more than I can describe to receive such appreciation from the family.
I’ll focus on three other experiences, though. Rocco ended second grade. For him, maybe it’s not that big a transition- he will be in the same school in the same town. Bit throughout my life, I viewed the transition from second to third grade as a truly consequential one. That’s when my parents moved me from the public school in Manville to a Catholic school two towns over. I’d never again attend school with someone from my blue collar hometown of Manville, and it kicked off a lifetime of feeling like an “other” wherever I went, a feeling that dissipated in my 30s in DC only to come back even more powerfully since moving to this town.
Everyone loves Rocco, and he is surrounded by so many great kids. It’s strange and wonderful to watch him experience a much happier and better adjusted childhood than his old man did. As much as all the privilege around here scares me, I’m really happy for him.
Samantha’s graduation from the autism preschool she’s been attending for the past three years was emotionally overwhelming for all of us. I am so excited for her to start in Rocco’s elementary school in a neurotypical classroom with an aide. But I’m also so nervous. Will she be able to handle it? Will people be kind to her? My heart is constantly full thinking about all the possibilities for her future. One day, she’ll blow my mind with her amazing, powerful, beautiful brain and convince me that she’ll run the world some day. The next hour, she’ll throw a tantrum that makes me think we can never leave the house again.
There was also a big celebration I didn’t attend: my 25th college reunion. Part of the reason was all these other commitments, but I won’t deny that the losses of the past few years played a part. It was hard to envision reliving the Tombs college experience without Gerard on a stool next to me.
Indeed, in these past few years, there have been a lot more goodbyes than hellos for me. Losing my dad- my rock and moral center- shakes me even as we approach a decade since his passing. Then becoming parentless after my mother died, followed by the loss of Gerard and shortly after that one of my closest friends from high school- still shakes me.
I think about my own mortality daily. Every night when I go to bed, I do a little personal census of what situation I would be leaving for my family. The stakes are just so high. Loss makes the silly fights seem embarrassing but makes the consequential fights seem all the more worthwhile.
Undoubtedly, I struggle the most with the loss of Gerard. I cried many tears last weekend thinking of all the times we had together. The people are few and far between who love you unconditionally, and Gerard was that for me.
It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself in your 40s. There are seemingly no more joyful beginnings. Life becomes about continuing down the paths you chose as long as decades ago rather than exciting new possibilities.
But there’s a destructive narcissism in getting trapped in that view. A live lived for others is the fullest and most beautiful life. Anything I can do to improve the journey of those with so many beginnings ahead has meaning well beyond what’s in my own head. That’s how you earn a legacy.
I am skeptical of those who solely pursue their own power, money, or fame to build a legacy. It’s an attempt to shortchange the natural cycle of life from living for yourself when you’re young to living for others when you’re older.
The purpose of my future is to give those around me a path to as many joyful beginnings as they want- graduations, weddings, births, maybe even something that would have once seemed so simple, like having the skills to live independently. That’s my mission. That’s my legacy.
And every once in a while, even in these later years, a new beginning arrives. When we moved back here in 2017, I’d never met my cousin Mark, who is my father’s brother’s grandson. Now, I couldn’t imagine my life without him- he’s an essential part of our family. In many ways, he has helped to fill the giant chasm in my life that Gerard’s passing caused. He’s done that by always saying yes to being together and caring about me and my whole family unconditionally.
On Sunday night, we attended the Paul McCartney show at Camden Yards. McCartney is not Mark’s favorite artist but he wanted to be there with me in that cathedral of my youth. And we built another experience we will remember for a lifetime. Even if my faith in an afterlife is dimmer than it’s ever been, I couldn’t help but imagine my father and his brother looking down, proud of us both, thrilled that we had found each other. An ending, and a new beginning.
Sir Paul had it right.