Endings that feel like Pauses

This afternoon I said good bye to our kids and their families. They came together for the last day of our after-school program, received certificates celebrating their participation and attendance for the year, ate some ice cream, and said good bye. I am accustomed to transitioning home and work places but part of those transitions include good byes that never feel final. The kids left with their parents or rode the bus home, struggling to listen to directions as they pulled their backpacks off their hooks and lined up swarmed at the door.

I’ll see some of them again for three days in about a month when their summer program starts, but after that, I’m gone. I worked with these kids for a school year and the informality and ease of this good bye is a little unsettling for me. I know that it will likely be the same sort of feeling when I do leave, because endings tend not too weigh too heavily on my heart. I know that the relationships I’ve developed that I really care about should be strong enough to extend beyond my physical location. I can call, message, or visit the friends that I’ve adopted, and move on to life’s next adventure.

The most difficult part for me is coming to an end like this and trying to answer the question, “Did I make a difference?” It’s one that I come back to periodically, and especially at these breaks in life that naturally lend themselves to reflection. I have had many year-long commitments and groups and organizations and even to people, and I always walk away wondering if my presence in these places and peoples’ lives mattered. At some level, I know that I have made a difference, but even after looking at numbers of the pounds of food I’ve collected and distributed, pictures of projects we’ve completed, and even re-reading my blog entries about the things we’ve done, I still cannot fathom the fact that my presence makes a difference.

Life is short, and we are temporary. I feel the temporary nature of my own existence in AmeriCorps especially, where I see myself as a cog in this great machine working towards improving lives in poor communities across the country. My individual contribution may not be much, but without it, the machine wouldn’t work as well. However, when I step out, someone else will leave and someone else will fill my place. I’ve got five weeks left to make the most of my time here. What do I need to do that I haven’t done already? In truth, I do not know.