It really is true what they say about being a parent. One day their little chubby hand in yours crossing the street, telling you they want to live with you forever. And the next, packing up and going to college. I used to think of this as such a desperately sad thing. But I have come to understand that these are the thin places, where the sacred meets the profane. And you don’t get one without the other.
I walk around campus now and it is teeming with beautiful faces. And while so often we wish for the quiet of the summer, I have to admit; it’s good to see everyone again. Once again, I am part of a tribe, a thin place.
One of the biggest pleasures of my life has been observing my son grow into a decent human being. Only yesterday it seems he came walking tearfully into my bedroom one night, all unkempt and puffy eyed from crying, to tell me that he just couldn’t decide. “What honey, what can’t you decide?” "When I grow up, I want to marry Elizabeth (a classmate in his newly formed kindergarten class) but I also want to marry you." “Oh honey, you don’t have to decide that. You can have everything you want and need,” I lied. Lying is, afterall, a sacred tradition of parents the world over.
And then they move out, form intimate relationships, create community, pay most of their own way in the world. And you think, "well, they are all grown up. They don’t need me anymore." And then the phone chirps.
And you are greeted with the same tearful voice a few octaves lower, grieving for the passing of a beloved cat in a very sudden and traumatic way. To watch him and his partner bring this kitten into their lives and take care of him, make decisions for his welfare together, negotiate, compromise and sacrifice for the good of another being is a thin place.
To know that he no longer needs me there to figure out you have to dig the grave and do the next thing, you grieve, you cry together, you talk through your sorrow and you hold one another and you don’t go to class, you don’t go to work. You put on black clothing, pull the blinds, so to speak, and you feel the pain. To know he knows this, that he has someone to hold and to be held by is indeed for me to know god.
For all of you Duke parents out there and parents of other emerging adults, I am excited for the thin places you will discover this year. And, thank you for sending us your children. Campus is a lot more beautiful this week than it has been all summer.