Unlike the first time, you will not always know when it is the last time.
You can remember the first time you drove a car, had sex, slept in your own apartment. These events come with a crescendo, a soft building movement toward the culmination of something memorable. You can think in the moment—and afterwords–and you can say, with certainty, now THAT was the first time for that. It is exhilarating, worth marking.
Perhaps you write it down in your dairy, marking the date with two hearts and a smiley face. First time I kissed a boy. It was magic. And even if you don’t record it for posterity, there is the “firstness” of it that sticks from the start which makes it valuable. You bookmark it with your memory.
It attaches, and goes on from that point, lingering in your mind, a vague recollection and acknowledgement of the beginning.
But what about the end? What about the last time? It often sneaks up on you and flies right past, without you knowing. You may not know it for days, for months or years, that it was the end. You only know it is the end, when it doesn’t happen anymore. And then, well.
It’s awful late to make it count.
We are believers. We take for granted our “foreverness” much like the “firstness”. If it has happened, it will happen again. It isn’t that we don’t appreciate it, it’s that we come to know it as our truth.
We too often reflect on the importance of something, only after it is gone.
It’s not the big last times that that I’m really thinking about, the ones that mark a clear boundary, like the passing of your grandfather or the end of a marriage.
It’s the small-ish ones. The ones that fade away without fanfare or consequence. The last time you ride your two-wheeler before you give it away for riding in cars with boys. The last time you hold your son’s hand on the way to school before he decides he is too old, too cool. The last plate of pot roast at your old spot, sitting at your mother’s dining room table. The last time all 6 of your children are crushed together in your bed on a Sunday morning.
The last walk with your husband through the dusky, empty neighborhood streets before the first big snow. The last time the cashier asks for your I.D. when she rings up your Budweiser. The sound of your teenager’s voice echoing through the house, the last time she calls, “mommy?”.
That moment, each night, where your wife without thinking, inches her toes, slow and methodically over, in the bed until she is just barely touching your leg, before she dwindles into sleepy stillness.
We think that we are entitled to these things. Entitled to always, until always goes away. This does not make us complacent or naive. It means, that as a whole, we are hopeful. But it is dangerous not to sense the fragility of all of it. Dangerous not to treasure it while it is here.
Of course, we can’t live every moment like we will lose it all. And I’m not saying we should.
But is it really that hard, to decide to remember and notice more? To appreciate the smallness and the frequentness, just as much the “firstness”?
Maybe we should hold on just a little bit longer, and tighter than we should.
We should stay for dessert.
We should take the long way home.
We should write in out diary, I kissed a boy for the 5,746th time today. And it was magic.
And if, impossibly, unimaginably, we find that it was the last time, we will be glad we did.
And if it is not, we will be more mindful of just how amazing it is, and wonderful, that we get to do it again.