There and Back Again

This is a re-print of an article I posted (9.08) after my son departed Denver on his trek around the world. As you read this, our family is probably in some part of our journey to retrieve him at the same airport in Denver. In reverse symmetry, this time I will watch brothers be reunited. Instead of saying good-byes, Steve and I will embrace our son and welcome him home. Today is a day of homecoming, not departure. Today, we celebrate.

These thoughts, written at Andrew's leaving, still ring true at his arrival. Even after the globe has been circled, and all the moments have been counted down to reunion, we still remain in a parent's cycle of release, into another season of birth, and release again.


Pictured: "Poppy before the Lightning." 8.12.08 KjL

We measure the things we care about. Be it body weight, interest rates, age, or days to delivery. I remember measuring out my pregnant months until delivery; days and hours counted down. Then after each birth, I would pay attention to the moments until each boy reached 9 months old. After that point, each life begins a slow crawl away from me. Every day after nine months is the marking of a son's life lived longer outside my body than inside. At nine months, independent life overtakes the gestation process. The process of weaning begins ... and never ends. All of life is a constant pulse of gestation and birth, nursing and weaning, embrace and release.

There have been too many times that I have lost the pulse. I have been too distracted when attention was needed; nursed when I should have weaned; released when I should have held; over-protected when I should have let go. For all the times I have missed the mark, regret reminds me. It is a relentless companion that I constantly fight to silence. And, last summer as the days to Andrew's global departure counted down, I measured the moments, and fought regret.

Firstborn children carry the privilege of age and the affects of their parent's inexperience. So, as Andrew was packing and checking off his last lists before leaving, I felt the weight of my many failures. Thousands of frightening and beautiful moments slip by in motherhood. I had sworn to capture them; to remember, to document, and share it all. Funny quotes, pictures, life-events, vacations, sports, music, you name it. And, I couldn't capture it as it all sped by. For several months before he left, this was just one regret that constantly followed me around the house like bad weather. I'd feel it creep up and settle in. But a certain grace recently came to me. It helped me silence regret and loosen my clenched grip on the past.

Hummingbirds. We have a hummingbird feeder by our living room window. One brown and orange 'Rufous' hummingbird arrived late in July and claimed the feeder as his own. In so doing, he became "ours." Rufus was possessive and mean. He would run off any visiting hummers, including a humming mom and small baby. We came to learn his only fear was large bees, and the cat. Rufus was strikingly brilliant in speed and color. To catch sight of him drinking at the feeder would always make me gasp and involuntarily point, "LOOK!" to anyone in the room. This motion would inevitably startle Rufus and he would take flight. Over and over, my finger was left pointing at an empty feeder. My sons would gasp and point. My husband would gasp and point. Like a flint spark, Rufus would disappear before the experience could be shared.

Shooting Stars. This past summer, all six of us went on a 5 day backpacking trip up into Holy Cross Wilderness in Colorado. We stopped in transit on a gravel road. Traveling under a black night sky in our big old Suburban, Steve pulled over. Steve, Ty, and Isaac got up on the roof of the truck and watched a meteor shower. I craned to see out the window while they shouted and admired, "LOOK!" Each time, before I could locate the shooting star, it would be gone. Isaac saw three meteors fly across the sky, and I did not see one of them. Those were his moments of wonder; not mine. Shooting stars are very hard to share.

Lightning. Back home, in my front yard, the warm sun was setting just right. It was breaking in beams over the mountain and trees, down into my garden. Certain flowers were being spotlighted from the sky. I grabbed my camera to capture the poppies, glowing red on tall wiry stems and swaying stiffly in the breeze. I caught their tall papery poses in high definition. As the camera clicked, the mountain backdrop became dark and stormy. The breeze went cold. I turned to get an image of the imposing clouds. At that moment, a huge bolt of lightning struck the top of the Peak. My finger was ready on the shutter. But, I missed it. Too fleeting to be captured, that moment of lightning was for my eye alone.

There are moments of childhood that are hummingbirds, shooting stars, and lightning. A toddler pulls himself up to stand, smiles, and falls; a nursing infant looks up at my face, and stops to touch my nose; a tiny son stops and signs "I love you" when he gets out of the car to go to kindergarten; my guitar player or drummer, looks down from the stage, and catches my eye, in the crowd. Adrenaline rushes deep with joy, one second, and it's gone; too fleeting to be shared; no way to catch and keep; no place for regret, only gratitude. Gratitude, instead.

For me, this was a truth full of grace. As I counted down the days to releasing Andrew out into the world (literally), as his departure approached, some of my regret lost its power. For me to pine away over how something should have been, is to miss what is, right now, in front of me. In this life, we are given breath-stealing moments; unmerited, and untethered from future burden or past regret. They are the hum of a bird wing, the flight of a star, a streak of lightning in the sky ... or loved ones, home until they leave. Afterward, our fingers are left pointing at an empty feeder, or poised on an unclicked shutter. They are joys and sorrows, not meant to be kept or possessed. We can not hold it all, or clench it tightly for the future. The moments we measure are meant to be lived fully, and let go. The waiting of gestation always means a moment of birth. Birth and release.... and release ... and, release again ... sometimes to the ends of the Earth, and back again.

V-Team Departure, Denver International Airport, Sept. 2009