For the Traveler
Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.
New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.
When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:
How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.
A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.
May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.
May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.
~John O' Donohue~
~John O' Donohue~
Seth asked me, Mom, do you know the 5 stages of grief?
And as he rattled them off: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, I blurted out, Of course I do! It was my job. Remember? But how do you know them?
Seth regularly astonishes me with the nuggets of wisdom and information he gleans from his "studies" on YouTube and the Internet (yes, we have restricted mode one & locked. Do you?) Still, since we were driving to a big going-away celebration (maybe that's the wrong word) for my middle son, who is headed off to work on his PhD in New Mexico, a 4-5 year venture, and who, if he stays on trajectory and decides to teach, may not move back to Kentucky... it was a timely topic. My son's friends are legion, and loyal. He makes friends easily everywhere he goes. They all know how gregarious he is, and how he's the one with ideas and inspiration, who calls people up, makes plans and makes stuff happen. He's also pretty much always upbeat, and he's generous of time and spirit. He's as loyal to them as they are to him. Sometimes, when I'm being introduced as his mom, I feel as if I'm a celebrity of sorts. He's that beloved.
The rest of us in the family are introverts. We have friends, but for me, I'd rather have 2 or 3 genuine friends that I can trust and who are authentic and with whom I share basic outlooks and interests. I need to leave my time together feeling better about myself and the world, not sucked dry or wondering, what did that mean?
I'd rather read a book. Or be on my farm. And I think my other kids and my husband are pretty much the same. So at this party, I had some time to see many of my son's friends I'd not seen for months or years, and to meet some I'd never met. A common theme was how sad we'd all be without him. There really was an undercurrent of grief. I have to say that I haven't been feeling that way. I am so happy for my son; I know he'll stay in touch and visit, wherever he lives; I know that we can't plan or control the future; and I know how lucky I am to have had him around for 33 years (except for a year and a half when I was studying for ministry and he was staying with his dad). He didn't even go away to college!
But... there's something else. I've been musing about it. Wondering: am I just in denial? For sure, I'm slow to recognize and feel the impact of major losses. Because there was no acknowledgement of the pain associated with losing my mother when I was five (we were expected to soldier on), I developed a sort of frozen first response around sadness. It actually came in handy in ministry, when I had to be strong for families who'd lost someone, especially tragically. I can go numb for days or years, and then something will trigger my well of sorrow and deep melancholy. I'm sure this has been at the root of many or perhaps most of my bouts with depression.
But as I looked at the group picture I took right before leaving the party, I felt this sense of unmitigated joy. Some (not all) of the people are in recovery. A few have been sponsored or been sponsors to one of my sons. Many are friends from 5Ks, biking, coffee drinking, and other loves.
It kept reminding me of this other, precious photograph I have of my grandfather Patton, about 80 years ago, in one of the early AA groups in Philadelphia. I was reminded that evening that while addiction and alcoholism is still rampant, there is a path to sanity. Through God and the 12 Steps of AA millions of people have restored their lives and gained success and happiness they never dreamed of. In my own family, people have died from alcohol and drug abuse, at least three in the past two generations. However, people have also found recovery and led others to recovery and better lives.
The Patton Family
Sometimes people say, I can't believe how much he's changed! about my son's recovery. But what I think is that actually, he just returned to the self he always was. He changed when he was under the influence of and imprisoned by substances. No one who has not gone through this can imagine how excruciating it is to stand by while the child you loved and nurtured from infancy leaves you and virtually disappears.
I've described it as a grief that never ends, because you are burying the person over and over. You just keep running through those five stages again and again and again.
You go for years, unable to look at a baby picture or album, unable to laugh at a memory, terrified someone will ask you how your kid is doing, feeling their judgment in their "well meaning" questions (I still feel this 7 and 4 years on) and not even daring to imagine a future.The feeling of shame you have when others talk about their kids' proms, college exams, marriages, and visits is profound. At some point, they stop even asking. And you absolutely feel alone. Yes, there is Al Anon. And sometimes, it helps.
And maybe you are one of the lucky ones. Because so many do not find recovery before death finds them, and while we do not comprehend this mystery, it seems manifest that those who do must live even more gratefully, and more fully, for those who do not.
My saddest thought was not that my sons would die young; it was that they would live a life of ever-increasing dissolution, never going anywhere, always in debt, spiraling from disaster to disaster, a life that slowly destroyed not only them but all who loved them.
So here's my answer: No, I'm not sad/angry/worried or in denial because my son is moving away (for now). I'm quietly joyful. I'm joyful because I actually did lose him before. He left for years and I came to believe I would never see him again. I was wrong. I am so grateful for his freedom that I could never feel remorse about anything he chooses to do with it.