What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
As I pulled out of my parking space, I realized my gas tank was on empty. How poetic. I proceeded down the cement ramps of the hospital parking garage and drove into the brightness of the afternoon. As I weaved through the city traffic, I gambled that my engine could make it home on fumes.
Once I was safely out of the city, the tears began to fall. I didn’t know what they meant, other than relief, maybe a bit of grief, and mostly, exhaustion. I had resigned from my job as a cardiac OR nurse and just finished my last shift. This was the last time I’d drive this familiar path home.
For the past month, I’d been watching spring slowly bloom from the interstate. The trees that lined the highway were suddenly wearing green again, faint sprays of leaves now covering their bare branches. It was the end of March, that fickle season of ups and downs and in-betweens. This is how a new season arrives–like a child that grows so discreetly you can’t see it happening. Then, as if overnight, the old clothes don’t fit anymore.
On the drive home, I thought of how many times in the past year I’d stared death in the face and somehow managed to walk away from it. I had watched patients die on the operating table after extensive efforts to save their bleeding hearts. I had watched my own child encounter a terrifying brush with death and walk away with minor injuries. The mystery was beyond me. The memories still rattle me. The stress of the past year had taken its toll. The pace was no longer sustainable.
Sustainable. That’s the word floating through my mind and rolling off my tongue in this new season. My life up to this point has possessed a pattern of abrupt beginnings and endings, comings and goings. We moved a lot when I was a kid, and I have perpetuated that pattern into my adulthood, not just in my geographic location, but in my inner world of emotions and imagination.
I am a person that naturally seeks out heightened experiences. I am also a person that tends to crash and burn when those experiences become too much. Van Gogh said, “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” I commiserate. We artistic types tend to love color and drama. There’s something about intense experiences that magnify the deep cracks of the human experience, and these are the things we are always trying to get at. As writer Paulo Coelho says, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it is lethal.”
But now I know that the opposite is also true. There is a backlash to manufacturing these big experiences. I think that poet and author Christian Wiman says it best: “If life is art’s price, if imaginative creation is contingent upon, or even just coincident with, the destruction of reality…or the exploitation of reality…then art, even the greatest art, just isn’t worth it.”
My twenties and early thirties were sketched in bold, life-altering lines. I finished nursing school, joined the military during a time of war, moved across the country, got married, had babies, lost babies, adopted a baby. For each massive event, a period of depression and burnout followed. But now that I’m on the downward slope of my thirties, I’m realizing this pace isn’t sustainable for me or my family. Surely, life comes at us fast, but I think there are patterns in which I’ve made life harder than it needs to be, and that’s what concerns me. I need to find a new way to live.
In between the lines of my story, I’ve come to believe that the only way I can find myself is in the midst of chaos and upheaval. I have often pursued intense experiences as a way of proving something to myself. Now I know that my true self is most evident when I’m not doing anything to create or sustain it.
Perhaps the richest creativity is born from the mundane moments that are often missed by seeking excitement elsewhere.
This past year as a cardiac nurse has enlarged me in ways I never knew possible. Caring for the hearts of others has taught me more about caring for my own heart. The miracle of the human heart lies in its ability to steadily beat along, in times of both stress and rest. It works without fanfare or accolades. It speeds up and slows down, expands and retracts, like endings and beginnings that flow seamlessly together. It creates and sustains a reliable rhythm deep in the chest that brings life to the whole body. That’s how I want to live.
Libby Kurz holds a BS in Nursing and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in The Poet’s Billow, Relief Journal, Driftwood Press, and Literary Mama. A veteran of the US Air Force Nurse Corps, she now resides on the coast of Virginia with her family. When she’s not reading, writing, and keeping tabs on her three kids, she works as registered nurse and teaches poetry workshops. She is passionate about a good cup of coffee, bumming on the beach, and finding meaning in the ordinary moments of life. You can find her at www.libbykurz.com.