This was written right after our son left for his gap year in Israel, at the end of August, 2011.
My son is gone, having offered himself, arms stretching up to be caught by the enormous silver bird which will fly him to Israel. His room is more than empty, it is void. He considerately put all his things in the closet and drawers. There is nothing on the walls, and only my old copy, lent to him last year, of The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide on the shelves. I appreciated his consideration until the moment when I opened the door, stared at the blank walls, and felt the pain of loss shoot into my gut and twist, thinking “oh no, I made a terrible mistake — I should have had him keep his things out so it would still look like his room.”
Anticipation of pain is not anything like feeling the pain. Expecting to feel sad, I was surprised to feel devastated. Telling myself that he’s alive and well, happy and excited, that I’m lucky in these and so many ways, didn’t help.
So many of my friends — my family — have already sent their young men and women off to college, to travel, to work, to live close-by, to live across the world. Their support and their wisdom wrapped around me, holding me through the first few days which have been the hardest.
There are books and movies and poetry and songs about young people starting their journeys into the future. We don’t hear so much about the journeys of their parents, left behind to face a road that changed while they weren’t looking, suddenly facing a different direction with no signposts or maps.
Now I am half on that different road, with one gone and the other here. And I am looking in a different way at parents who have traveled this road before me. With children, everything is, in some way, related to their presence. When they have gone, and we are without them, the empty spaces in our homes reflect those in our lives and hearts. Eventually, after years of focus on getting our children to the next step, and the next after that, we begin to think about our own future.
Joseph Campbell has written extensively on the mythic journey of the Hero, through a series of stages from the “call to adventure” through trials and important meetings with guides, to a supreme ordeal that changes the Hero forever, ultimately leading to return with inner powers and rewards. When our young people set out on their own, they, too, experience a “call to adventure” which leads them into the lives they ultimately make for themselves.
This stage of the journey for parents is also impelled by a “call to adventure,” but the “call” does not come to us. As the ones left behind, how do we move beyond loss to envision a different direction for our lives? What qualities can we find inside ourselves that help us to choose a direction and start moving? How is the hero inside the parent different from that of the youth?