The students are always asking me what I do over the summer when they are not here on campus. Indeed….what does the staff do when they are not around? This summer, my Duke loves, I was introduced to impermanence and the power of steadfast resolve.
I was hiking and camping in Utah with friends. For 5 days, Marty, more like a brother than colleague, would say “Sheila, all it takes is wind, water and time” when I would remark on the leveling of the mountains into oceans of sand. These flat dessert sands interrupted by tall humanoid mountains reminded me of the power of patiently waiting. All it took to create this unfamiliar Utah landscape was wind, water and time.
When I reflect on pain in my life I think about how temporary everything is. This pain, this joy, this accomplishment, this mountain, even, temporary. Yesterday I am 25, frightfully pushing my first born into the world, telling the nurse I cannot not do it one more minute. Then in the next instant the pain gives way to love and it is all packing lunches, reminders of homework, running the taxi service, swiping the debit card, feeling close and then pulling apart as this baby grew to sticky fingered boy and then strange and unfamiliar man. The very moment I was sure that if we continued down this path we would no longer have a relationship became quite literally in the next instant me listening (imagine that!)…. listening to the 22 year old now grown man: “Mom, I am not sure what happened between us from the time I was 16 to now, but when I used to come home I couldn’t wait to leave. Today as I am leaving, I feel sad and I miss you.”
I know what happened. In addition to the same eyes, hair, politics, humor and love of good food, we now share the pain of missing people we love. It is necessary for his survival. It is necessary for my survival. He knows he can make his way in the world without his larger than life mother. And I know I can survive not being his mother full time. I may not want to, but I will. And while the world may have been brighter and more cheerful when he was little boy, I see beauty in the pastels now as well. This is what I wish for all parents driving their children to Duke in a few days. Your cars will be packed with stuff you know they can’t live without. A year’s supply and Benadryl and toilet bowl cleaner. I invite you to let them go, feel the deep ache, give them space and know that they will at some point choose to return, out of a shared story, not out of need or obligation, but a desire to feel that familiar “oh yes, I know that face, I recognize that hug, I even find those annoying habits nearly bordering on endearing.”
Wind. Water. Time. Mountains turn to sand. Loud angry arguments are barely audible echoes of a fight for independence and autonomy. And fear, sadness, missing, and longing step aside and make room for love.