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Why endings matter

By October 17, 2023October 29th, 2023No Comments

The home I grew up in …
How it was (painted by my grandfather, Bob). And how it looks now.

Why endings matter

The home I grew up in sells in ten days. My mum and dad bought it for $10,000 55 years ago when they moved to Canberra. ($10,000! I know!)

The whole family – mum, my brothers, their spouses and kids – gathered a few weeks back to conduct a closing ceremony. We wanted to recognize what an important space that had been for us all. We wanted to tell stories and to say thank you.

Mum told us about when they first moved in, late in 1968.

The house was so newly built that the sawdust from sanding the floors was still everywhere. For whatever reason, the builders hadn’t bothered with the tidy-up. So, for me – eleven months old and newly able to crawl – it was fantastic. Let’s explore! Let’s get messy! (An approach to life I’ve managed to continue pretty much ever since.)

First, it got deeply and unseasonably cold. There was no heating, and the new neighbors had cunningly already collected the remnants of the bulldozered tree cover, so there was nothing to burn. We all huddled around, trying to keep warm. Then the temperature jumped, and it got unbearably hot. Then it got really cold again.

Somewhere in there was my first birthday, which got forgotten with everything going on. It’s something I’ve brought up every year now for 54 years. I’m sure I’ll get over it soon.

After mum’s story, I told one, and then Nigel, then Gus, and so on through the family. Everyone had a memory to share, a moment when we’d felt nourished, or encouraged, or safe. We’d all been shaped by the love that this house had held for us.

I’m a lucky man.

Celebrate the end of things

It’s been quite a few years since I read Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling into Happiness (subtext: going from memory here), but one of the things that stuck was that beginnings and endings play an outsized role in our overall memory of an event. If you start strong and finish strong, people remember that rather than, perhaps, a slightly ho-hum middle.

Life is full of endings and beginnings and endings again. If we take a moment to notice, you’ll see liminal moments all the time, thresholds where you leave something behind and move towards whatever’s next.

When you give the ending some heft and some weight and perhaps also some lightness and laughter, you’re not just providing closure in the moment. You’re upgrading your memories of the whole experience.

Our family gathering wasn’t an elaborate thing. We had pizza, a bottle of bubbly, and it took about an hour. It was laid back, but it was significant.

The next time I’m back in Canberra, the house will be in someone else’s hands. I hope it’s a good family, I hope they love it and are nourished by it as much as we all were.

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Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.