In the past couple weeks, I have been transitioning into a new job as a spiritual care resident at Providence Health, getting back into the “clinical pastoral education” mode of learning + orienting myself to a new hospital system and doubly rigorous schedule from what I had as an intern at Children’s Hospital LA. Feeling everything from excitement to nervousness to anxiety to extroversion and sensory overload as I talk to and interact with more people more frequently in the past two weeks than I probably have throughout the entire last five months combined.
A couple days ago, we had the chance to read excerpts from this book called Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges, and reflect on it in writing. I realized that what was coming up for me was worth writing more about and sharing with the wider world because it’s about those all-too-familiar (yet always alien and unexpected) themes of transition, change, endings, in-betweens and beginnings. Most of us probably are encountering ourselves these days somewhere in the midst of one of these places.
“Every transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new” (Bridges, 11). It stands out to me this concept/feeling that Bridges raises of the process of transitioning both out of something – going through an ending – in order to go through a beginning, to start something new.
I find myself feeling deeply nostalgic, pensive and well-connected to the images and feelings that this author paints of loss, the ambiguity and ambivalence of the present, the way that endings leave residue and the way we approach endings and change, etc., even in the face of new and exciting change.
I’m sitting at my desk in my room listening to a moody, indie/folk singer-songwriter playlist on headphones, candle burning in front of me. My mind drifts to recent memories of seeing my family this summer in Maine for a brief time, revisiting the feelings of anticipation surrounding my arrival back in New Jersey and reunion with them after almost half a year, the drive up to Maine together, the beautiful, whimsical, nostalgic, memory-filled and light moments together in the Maine woods, and then the feeling of it all drawing to a close and my departure and farewell and return to LA to confront a time of transition – moving to a new part of the city, a new apartment, starting the Providence residency. That sense of loss – a loss of moments and memories and things that maybe, truly, were not as good as what is to come – is still a sense of true loss and it leaves its residue.
I can relate deeply and viscerally with that “strange and confusing in-between space” wedged in the middle of an end and a beginning. As recently as two weeks ago, I was sitting in a nearly, an increasingly and incrementally empty Pasadena apartment, as I started a move slightly west beginning on August 15th and finally happening in full by September 1st. Transitioning out of a part-time job in Pasadena that didn’t pay that well but afforded me a lot of free time this summer and was predictable, comfortable, and with manageable expectations – then leaping into a year-long residency that will surely bring with it unpredictability, challenge, immense responsibility and a higher level of commitment and engagement is frightening. Jumping from interacting with very few people because of COVID risks and the way that social organization has been restructured lately – to talking and needing to engage with my peers for 8 hours a day was a shock to my system last week and this week. I find myself tired from the socialization and array, depth and breadth of sensory experiences and input that I’ve experienced in a mere three or so days, simply in the beginnings of this orientation period. I also find myself expectant and anticipatory and excited for what is come – these feelings are held simultaneously and in tandem with each other.
Which reminds me that while this reading made me very viscerally revisit those memories and feelings of loss, transition and change that have happened just in the past few months; it also reminded me of the value of each individual experience and the way I’ve been trying to take judgment away from my experiences and not feel like, “oh, I’m not experiencing ‘loss’ in the way I should be” or “this shouldn’t hurt as much as it does,” or “this is so much better than what came before, why can’t I just be happy and excited about it? Why do those residual feelings of nostalgia and loss and sadness keep creeping in?” Those are all judgment-type statements, I think, that give power and weight to the way that I perceive something “should” feel or “should” leave an impact or something, when realistically, we are human beings and we will experience things in different ways that we can’t always expect. And small things and moments will have incredible impact or lingering impact, but that’s not a “bad” thing.
New experiences and seasons, like this residency, will invariably bring with them both beautiful and challenging feelings and anticipatory sentiments. The dichotomous experience of a “good” event leading to difficult feelings is simply part of the human experience, and recognizing those moments within ourselves and our own lives without judgment seems absolutely essential to me in moving forward and being able to open ourselves up to new things while fully honoring what we’ve been through to be where we are today.
Moving – both physically as well as mentally and emotionally into a new space – a new apartment, new job, new CPE unit, new part of the city, new and unfamiliar responsibilities – has certainly been accompanied by unexpected feelings of loss and nostalgia and rupture and endings and all that comes with them. A big piece of growth and adulthood for me has been finding value in the varied experiences that I’ve had without adding judgment or expectation, as best I can avoid it. Recognizing that each phase of life and moment carries with it sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, but that its impact may not always be predictable or logical or rational. And it’s okay to have lingering or residual feelings as things shift and change.
While I think it is true that we “have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new,” I also think that we can sometimes hold both in tandem for a little while. The residual feeling of living in the apartment in Pasadena with the bright yellow tiles and streetlight glare and little squirrels and eastside people that used to be able to come over and coffeeshops to walk to – and then this new place I’m living with this new job that’s coming with so much responsibility and challenge and unpredictability, yet also an immense level of inevitable growth and learning and impact – these things I am still holding altogether as experiences that are sliding by each other; one is beginning when one hasn’t yet quite fully “faded from view.”
Sometimes, we can see that one thing is much better than another, we find ourselves “moving forward” into something new and different and more prestigious or lucrative or impactful or whatever. Moving into a new relationship or milestone that’s just “better.” But, I believe that a dichotomy of human experience is that we don’t always feel the way that we would expect, or things impact us in ways we’d never anticipate. Like who would’ve thought that moving out of an old, creaky apartment without air conditioning or a dishwasher, where I was working a part-time job that wasn’t at all connected to a “long-term plan” or “what I really wanted to do with my life” could still leave me nostalgic and sad as I find myself now starting a new chapter, a new beginning?
The reality of our experiences are that we can’t always anticipate what they’re going to feel like, and I don’t think we need to feel judgment or guilt or failure of expectation or something when they’re just not exactly what we thought they’d be like, or something “hits” us in a way we wouldn’t have expected or wasn’t quite rational. And so, I think I’m coming into this new experience holding it still in tandem with the many other things I’ve been through in these past few months, open and ready to what it will bring and the new beginning that it truly is – while still recognizing that I can feel nostalgia and fondness and loss and good and bad memory for all those other things – none is any less or more significant necessarily and a loss is a loss, even if it may be in the name of “moving towards something better.”