It was a moving sight to see.
Over a thousand students, stretched from the Bell Tower to nearly Olmsted Hall, all holding candles, gathered to celebrate the lives prematurely taken from our sister school at UC Santa Barbara. With so many flickering candles lighting a crowd of solemn faces, hardly a dry eye could be seen as the UCR community gathered to show unity among themselves and among the UCs.
Endings are difficult to deal with. Whatever form they come in, the closure of a significant period of one’s life is rarely easy to deal with. The precious security blanket that has been snuggled tight against us, that we’ve come to rely on — is suddenly gone. A sheer drop with no easy way out or around remains in front of us, and it’s sink or swim to survive.
It is in times like these, however, that we show what we’re really made of. We are forced to deal with the realities of life and its expected and unexpected turns. In forming the memorial for their fellow fallen classmates at UCSB nearly overnight, we got a glimpse of how quickly and passionately Highlanders were able to come together in the wake of such a tragedy. Still, with endings such as these, there is a looming sense of “what now?”
In the case of lives being taken from us, we have to learn to celebrate their lives with our own, while not getting bogged down in the dampness of the deep melancholy that such a horrific event can leave in the air. We must never forget the loss we experienced on May 23, or the feeling of despair it leaves deep down in the pit of the stomach.
Nor can we keep feeling that despair for all eternity. Some things, even the pain of tragedies, really only do get better with time, and this in all likelihood is one of those situations. To quote from the song “Every Tear Disappears,” by St. Vincent, “Oh and what about the pain? / Don’t ask me how, I just know that it fades.” To live out the rest of our lives in sulky gloom does not honor the legacy of the fallen. We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep the flame of a better future moving ever forward.
As we come to terms with tragedy, we must remember that endings are also new beginnings. Although true for the sadness of UCSB, this is the case for the end of every chapter of our lives.
Graduation, in this sense, is also a cliff that we can choose to parachute or dive off of. People you have spent the last two or four years with will suddenly be nearly out of reach, whether they only depart from UCR or venture beyond Riverside itself. Effort will have to be put in to keep friendships and acquaintanceships alive, and it’s up to each individual to decide which people they want to occasionally stalk on Facebook, or who they still regularly want to hang out with. Yet the truth is inescapable: Some of your best friends, partners and buddies will not be as immediately and constantly available as they once were.
Not all goodbyes are the same, and not all losses are equal. For those saying goodbye to a graduating friend, remember that others this week had to give their final farewell.
Still the question remains unanswered: what now?
Now is the time for reflection. What have you accomplished? What did this person’s life mean to you? What can we learn from the living, the dead and those far away from us? What should I do to cope with entering this new era of my life? Take time to slow down for a second and evaluate where you are and what you want — and what the potential consequences, good or bad, of your future actions might be. Life is a generally hectic and high-speed adventure, but sometimes it helps to slow down and see where you’re going before taking off at light speed in the wrong direction.
Now is the time to make future plans. Take the time you need to reflect, but don’t hold yourself back from moving forward and making something great with your life. Whether that’s going to graduate school, starting your career, traveling or doing anything else, make sure to make a plan and act on it, before life passes you by.
Now is the time to prove to yourself what you’re capable of. Let your experience in dealing with letting things go help forge your path. Your experiences help define you, but don’t control your future — there is no reason that something that happened in your past should not allow you to accomplish something in the future. Regretting and demonizing your past realistically cannot serve any purpose but allow you to wallow in bad thoughts. Don’t let bad happenings of the past permanently affect your quality of life today.
A lot of this advice may seem cliche. Some of it may just be meaningless words to those coping with loss. For those affected, there may be no words that can give you comfort.
But sometimes we still need a reminder when life gets us down. So to fellow Highlanders, and to any Gauchos and fellow UC family reading this: Celebrate the past by making your future even brighter. Show that you are strong enough to say goodbye to whatever is thrown at you — and celebrate what was, by showing what can be.