Last month thousands of students graduated from high school or college or university or trade school. Any number of educational institutions scattered across the country. I always loved the word “commencement” (what the graduation ceremonies are actually called) because even though it is a ceremony celebrating an ending or an accomplishment or completion, it also means starting a new journey. For some that means jobs, internships or volunteer work but for others it means taking some time to breathe after fifteen plus years of school. This break has earned the moniker “gap year”.
The phrase “gap year” has gotten me thinking about direction because, after all, when one takes a gap year, that is what they are searching for. We all need direction to move forward in our lives. Sometimes the direction seems perfectly clear and other times we muddle around until we see a sign. In the evenings I am fortunate to have a lovely garden to sit in and watch the sky. What I see more frequently each night are planes flying by. High enough that I can’t hear them but clear enough that I can see which direction they are flying. Military planes. Passenger planes. Cargo. It makes me wonder. Have they reached their destination or will they move on?
The past two years have been, for me (and for many others, although I can only speak for myself), the very definition of a gap year. There was truly no direction as we faced a previously unknown threat. No one knew quite what to do beyond sheltering in place and hoping for the best. For a minute it felt as though the earth had slowed on its axis, held its breath, stopped moving altogether. Where were we supposed to go from here? What was the direction? Who was supposed to give us that direction? It gave me a lot of time to ponder.
Despite the seeming lack of movement, it was clear the earth had not stopped at all. It only hesitated long enough for us to take note of things that had been there the whole time. Social injustices. Polarizing views about which direction we should be moving. Health care inequity. Racial and gender inequality. It made me wonder. Who should be guiding us? Who has the right to say what our rights are? Who makes the laws and who enforces them? Who follows them and who gets a pass? Where do we go from here?
In practical terms, direction is a science. North by northwest. South, east, up, down. In other terms, it’s a state of being. Should I stay or should I go? The other thing evident to me is that the gap year(s) created some actual gaps. Whereas our lives would cross each other at work or in social situations, we really didn’t connect much. Births, deaths, job changes, moves to other places, all of those things happened to friends and family while I sat cocooned in my home. And now I look back and it feels as though we have traversed a great gap. Whatever direction we took, we have all been changed. Things have been left behind and other things have been acquired.
Last week we placed colorful pinwheels around the garden in anticipation of our young grandson’s visit. They spin, creating lovely color mosaics, depending on which direction the wind is blowing. There have been times when I felt it best to follow that wind just to see where I would end up. How far dreams and hopes could be carried and when I might need to change direction. I have done so many times in my life so far. There is no one answer. Everyone needs to find their own North Star to guide them. For now, I am content with the direction my life is going. I just need to watch where the wind blows.