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Posted on Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 8:41 a.m.

Beginnings that follow endings

By Dennis Sparks


Forest Hill Cemetery

Dennis Sparks/Contributor

There’s nothing like a stroll through a graveyard on a damp and dreary fall afternoon to remind me of this life’s ultimate destination. The muted beauty of the day did not deter my thoughts from turning to the many endings represented by the gravestones in Forest Hill, endings of lives, of lineage, of hopes and dreams.

But endings can take other forms as well—endings of jobs, of marriages or other important relationships, of good health, and of financial security and even our homes, to name a few. We are accustomed to thinking of beginnings, middles, and ends in a linear way: for instance, we are born, complete important life tasks, and we die. It’s also possible, though, to think of endings preceding new beginnings, beginnings that may not have been chosen but eventually enrich and add meaning to our lives.

The interval between the discomfort or even suffering of an ending and the uncertainty of a beginning is often disorienting and even chaotic, a time that William Bridges in his book Transitions calls “the neutral zone.” Bridges describes the neutral zone as “an important empty or fallow” period in one’s life that offers an opportunity for self renewal than can lead to an improvement in the quality of the beginning which will eventually emerge.

Because this growth isn’t automatic, however, Bridges recommends solitude and retreat to listen for “inner signals” that will help us understand what we really want at this point in our lives, and to ponder “what would be unlived in your live if it ended today.” A glimmer of the new beginning, he says, may come in the form of an image, impression, idea, or a comment that someone makes that stays with us.

Graveyards like Forest Hill remind us that the advancements in our lives and community are built on the efforts of those who come before us. While endings are often painful and even debilitating, the creation of beginnings that enrich our lives and those of others lies within our hands.

How have you experienced the neutral zones of your life, and by what methods do you sense the seeds of emerging beginnings?

Dennis Sparks’ “Things Observed” photos and essays encourage readers to slow down to deepen their appreciation of aspects of daily life that may sometimes elude awareness and to see familiar things in fresh ways. You can contact him at


Giselle Martin-Kniep

Sun, Nov 8, 2009 : 2:16 p.m.

Easier to ponder endings that create opportunities for new and unexpected beginnings amidst the beauty of nature and all its offerings.

Barb Roether

Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 11:11 a.m.

Thanks for this lovely and inspirational article. Life is filled with endings that become transitions to something new and good. We can never stop learning that lesson. You expressed it so well.