Wrapping things up

If you're a kid, one way to tell that your summer vacation days are numbered is when the "Back to School" ads start appearing in the newspaper. The first batch appeared this past weekend. Could the end of summer be far behind?

According to the Celtic calendar, summer will end on August 1. Whenever it decides to take its leave of us, this summer has brought a collection of endings in its wake.

"The Sopranos" fans saw the end of an era when the last show in the popular series aired on June 10. The show ran for six seasons, comprising 86 episodes. Its themes of flawed but earnest human beings confronting extraordinary life challenges were almost Shakespearean in scope. The show did much to raise the bar of television programming, giving audiences something of considerable substance both in production value and content.

My favorite TV show — which I have never seen on television, only on DVD — aired its last season this year. "Slings and Arrows," a brilliant Canadian production, took audiences behind the scenes of a fictitious but all-too-real Shakespeare company, examining its personal and artistic pursuits. The show ran for only three seasons for a total of 18 episodes. But wow, what they packed into that little package. A veritable theatrical haiku.

And speaking of theater, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is busy negotiating contracts with its 91-member company. For some, this season will be the end of their time at the festival. With a new artistic director, change was inevitable. We appreciate how difficult it was making the decision to keep some of the company and not all. On behalf of those of us who have been privileged to see all of these talented people at work, we say thank you for enriching our lives. We wish you well wherever the Muses find you next season.

Meanwhile on the radio dial, Jeff Golden announced he was thinking of running for U.S. Senate, which meant he could no longer serve as host of Jefferson Public Radio's popular call-in program, the Jefferson Exchange. Golden had sat at the mic weekday mornings for four years fielding callers and interviewing guests.

We're not surprised that he is running for public office, as the Jefferson Exchange provided a valuable public service to listeners in Southern Oregon and Northern California. We wish Jeff well as he continues to serve his community by getting us to "do what you can."

On July 21, readers young and old welcomed the publication of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series. The movie versions have a ways to go to catch up with the release of the printed versions. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the film version of the fifth book, opened at theaters this summer, and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth, is due out in November next year.

The movie of the final book is scheduled to be released in 2010, and that will be the end for the cast, many of whom grew up on the screen right before our eyes. The success of the novels has made J.K. Rowling the highest-earning novelist in literary history and has been responsible for getting many young people excited about reading.

There have been considerable efforts made to keep the ending of the book under wraps. Potter fans would have to read the book to learn the fate of the young wizard whom destiny had chosen to set the world of wizardry aright. In facing down the dark forces that sought to bring wizardry under their control, would Harry pay the ultimate price? A telling photograph in a recent newspaper article showed an avid young reader dressed as a wizard poring over the final pages of her copy of the book that she had just purchased.

We are accustomed to expect the people we have cared about in a book, a play or a movie to live happily ever after, or at least to grow as people from the experiences they have gone through. We want things to be wrapped up so we can feel a certain peace — closure, even — with the story that has captured our imagination and our concerns. But sometimes, the endings don't quite do it. Talk to different people who watched the ending episode of "The Sopranos" and you'll find they aren't exactly sure what happened. Where were we left at the end of "Star Wars?"

Not every book, play or movie is so well-crafted that it manages to complete a satisfactory arc by the time it reaches the end of the story. Nor is every life. Someone wisely said to me recently that those of us of a certain age should be looking forward to Act III, the last years in our own individual drama. In Act III, we take what we have learned from Acts I and II and — in the ultimate back to school gesture — pass it on to others, before we come to the end of the long seasons of our life and exit — stage right..

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