Like Magellan, let us find our islands
To die in, far from home, from anywhere
Familiar. Let us risk the wildest places,
Lest we go down in comfort and despair.
— Mary Oliver
I’ve never been one to accept loss with equanimity, though I often wish I could. All the clichés about loss being a part of life, of accepting the good with the bad, seem to fall short in the wake of my sadness and grief. This is true even when what is happening is generally a good thing. In those cases, I then end up balancing on an emotional teeter totter between feeling excited or happy and feeling sad and morose.
The first time I can remember feeling this ambivalence was when I left home for college. I was bored out of my mind my senior year in high school, counting the days, which seemed to pass oh so slowly, until graduation day and freedom! I don’t recall how that summer went by – I know I worked so I imagine the time went quickly and the day finally arrived for me to walk out of my room, down the stairs and into my new life. I remember pausing at the door of my room, looking at the curtains I had sewn a couple of years before with the Coca-Cola logo on a background of red. I looked at my white, four poster bed and all the small accoutrements of childhood, and realized with full clarity that a door had closed. Never again would I inhabit that room in the way I did all those growing up years. I felt a lump in my throat for the little girl I once was, and all the hopes and dreams, smiles and tears that my little room contained.
I think it is appropriate that that scene took place in my doorway. A doorway is a “liminal” space – literally between two separate places but not a part of either one. It is not necessarily a comfortable place to inhabit, and yet it is universally understood to be a sacred space. The ancient Greeks kept a symbol of the god Hermes at the doorway. Hermes was the god of change, the god of the crossroads, the god of potentiality. So in many ways, my standing at the doorway was an unconscious recognition of the truth of my life at that moment; no longer a little girl, not yet a woman; no longer a school girl, not yet a college student; sadness at leaving childhood behind; happiness at moving into the future.
And now I am at a similar liminal space in my life. This time I am pausing at the doorway of parenthood; no longer the mother of small children, my youngest about to leave for college, I am saying good-bye to active parenting; to all the years of activities, classroom cupcakes, softball and soccer games, birthday party bounce houses, scraped knees, hugs and kisses. As a parent, you are told to savor those years, they go by so fast. And it is true; they did go by in the blink of an eye. And yet, even in savoring them, as I tried my best to do, they still passed by. Now the little boy who jumped up and down with excitement in anticipation of going to McDonald’s is a grown man about to start work on his MBA. The little girl who held my hand and exhorted her dad when he was trying to speed her up, “Slow and steady wins the race!” is now a lovely young woman, on the precipice of her own transition into college.
Of course I am thrilled for them and the promise their lives hold for them. I knew my job as a mom was only temporary and that my ultimate goal was to work myself out of that job, to love them deeply, passionately and dearly and let them go. But even with that joy, there is the sadness of ending. I wake up in the dark hours of the morning, and my mind begins to process this incomprehensible reality that soon they will both be gone and the house will be quiet and empty in a way that it never has been before.
I know there is no resolution for this situation – it is not a problem to be solved but rather an experience to be lived. No amount of reassurance from others – “they aren’t going away forever! They’ll be back for visits” – will change the fact that this phase of my life is over. I am in the doorway of my life – no longer in one room, not yet in the other. Though I have been in this place before, it hasn’t gotten any easier except, perhaps, in the knowledge or hope that something will arise, as yet unknown and I will fully enter into another phase in the not too distant future.