Neagley: Departures and Transitions

Aug 28, 2015

As autumn approaches, we begin to feel the stirrings of change and transition. Seeds, scattered by the wind, search for a future. Days are shorter and nights are cooler. Wildlife begins to move in new directions.

One year, in early fall, my family and I were packing to leave a wilderness area. We had explored marshes as the morning sun lifted blankets of mist, revealing scenes of great beauty. Canada Geese stood among green reeds, while young otters circled our canoe. I could have sworn they were smiling at us. It wasn’t easy to leave…

But as we departed from our cabin, there was a noticeable clamor on the lake. We turned to see a raft of a hundred or more loons on the water. Their chatter was made of unfamiliar, discordant sounds. I ran to the main office to ask the manager what we were witnessing – and she explained that, amazingly, all loons in the area convene each year to support and celebrate “teen” loons as they depart from their parents.

And so do we human parents see our children transition away from home at this time of year. They may be going to pre-school, kindergarten or college. Their destination may be nearby or far away. The child may be very young or nearly an adult. But regardless of those details, the good-bye is almost certain to be excruciatingly tender.

When leaving our middle child at college for the first time, we grieving parents were invited to a program offered by the chaplain. She acknowledged our deep sense of loss, and confusion. After all, our constellations were changing and we were losing our bearings. She began by asking us to turn and look at one another with wonder and with kind regard. Then, to emphasize her point, she read Galway Kinnell’s poem St. Francis and the Sow.

I guess the chaplain was trying to reinforce the notion that there is beauty and goodness in every creature, including us - even in times of despair. And there is strength in community. In closing, she told us that one previous year when Freshmen were arriving, she’d just stepped off a campus curb to cross the road when a van nearly hit her. As she looked at the passing driver, she saw the face of a sobbing parent, gazing into her rear view mirror.

“Oh how I hoped,” the chaplain concluded, “that she was reading the words, ‘Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear’ ”.