If you have children who live in places where weekend visits home are not common, then you know the special joy of hugging them hello and the sadness of not wanting to let go when they leave.
We never get used to the melancholy of what I call “the long goodbye.” As parents we resist hanging on too tightly, but their leaving us is a fact of life. The way things have to be. At least in our culture.
Maybe it wouldn’t be quite so hard on the heart strings if our kids weren’t so eager to grow up and go. That is another fact of life.
Our kids aren’t supposed to need our roofs over their heads forever, if we raised them right with an independent spirit. If they weren’t so darned eager to leave after 18 years.
We know it is not because we were terrible parents that they couldn’t wait to leave. We try not to let it hurt, but it does.
It is “the long goodbye” parents have known since that first day of kindergarten then leaving them for the first time all over again, this time in the parking lot of their university dorm.
It doesn’t occur to us at the time that when they leave they will never come home again. At least not as children.
Then there is the day when they announce the job offer they accepted in a city too far for weekend visits home.
You might see the kids at Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas if the job allows new hires time enough for a few vacation days.
In his poetry, “The Prophet,” Kahlil Gibran – a Lebanese-American philosopher, artist and writer – explained the essence of such subjects as beauty, death, good and evil, work, freedom and pain. He wrote the following “On Children.”
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you, they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite.
And He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hands be for happiness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves the bow that is stable.
The words are not comforting for those parents who are missing their adult children who are off having lives of their own. He is giving us wisdom couched in poetic verse.
He’s nailed it, and no comfort to find that Kahlil Gibran did not have children. Would his wisdom come in a different form had he viewed children through the prism of parenthood? We’ll never know.
I was trying to explain this to my children recently. Together, they have six kids and three of them are at distant colleges.
They tell me none of the three take time to call or text as much as they felt they should. They say their kids seemed ready to say goodbye, eager to see their taillights fade into the distance.
“It kind of hurts,” they agreed.
I smile to myself and resist the urge to say “join the club, yep, you did the same thing. It’s life. It is the way things are supposed to be, yada yada yada.”