9 Years Ago: The End of the Office

9 years ago I was living in Oregon after a 4 month stint in Bolivia. A month or so later I would apply to a small Bible College in Ohio, a state I knew absolutely nothing about. At the time, towns like Goshen Rosedale, Kitchner-Waterloo, Harrisonburg, Yellow Springs, Greenwood, Columbus, Sarasota, Atmore, Hutchinson, Pryor, Warsaw, Raphine, Lexington, Baltimore, Clayhole, Bridgewater, Middlebury, Odon, and a host of others would have inspired a shrug rather than a host of memories. Places that mark new beginnings such as the Island of Iona in Scotland, or Bailey Island in Maine,  or even life altering writers like Brennan Manning, Donald Miller, or Gerard Manly Hopkins were unheard of. (In fact I hated anything to do with writing or poetry at the time.) 774px-Scranton_welcome_sign_from_The_Office_creditsAnd then there were names I did know: Jim Halpert, Pam Beasely, Michael Scott, Dwight Shroot. Names that might belong to anyone, until Cory and Josh bought me season 1 of the office for my 19th birthday.

After getting my Associates degree from Rosedale Bible College, a couple of my friends moved into a single wide trailer across the road from the school where I was now doing promotional work. During the show intro, when Pam’s face appeared, we yelled at her for not being with Jim.

Once while travelling through Pennsylvania, I made a little stop in Scranton. Context enlivens good stories. I can't imagine why anyone would want to actually live there.

By the time I moved to Goshen, “that’s what she said” was in full swing. Chadwick introduced me to a table of guys in a half smoky room playing a game of poker, people with names like Leonard, Travis, and even Jim. The first words I said to my now close friend were, “Jim, do you by any chance sell paper?” And yes he did in fact sell paper –still does.

I lost track of The Office for a bit, picking up an episode here and there until we subscribed to hulu and caught up on the last season or two. As we watched, I was dumbfounded that Jim and Pam’s marriage contained many of the tensions Courtney and I were experiencing as we also settled into year three.

Saturday afternoon we watched the final episode. I wish I could have seen it with friends that span 10 years and five thousand miles. The flashbacks in the final episode put me in front of a dozen different TV screens in just as many towns.

As shallow as it may seem, the Office is a chronological framework for the first decade of my adulthood.

Good stories, the kind that make you want to cry when they end, take a long time to tell. They have foibles, botched episodes, lackluster seasons, forced plot twists, and awkward moments. After Michael Scott’s departure the show floundered for a while. But that’s often the way life works, we flop around trying to figure out what the hell’s going on. Sometimes it's only when we look back that we can see the stars we were struggling under.

Sure nostalgia has rose colored glasses, but it also clarifies what was (and is) most important. As Andy Bernard put it, I wish I could know when I’m in the middle of the good old days. Me too Andy. Me too. The finale does have me looking back with a bit of longing. But more than that, it was a way to close the door on the last decade at a time that has already felt like a transition into a new phase of life. And the looking back is giving me vision moving forward.

More on Wednesday...