My wife, Andy, came back from the farmer's market last Sunday with tears in her eyes (I had stayed back, recovering from a cold). She told me about how she saw an adorable little kid on the pony ride waving to her parents and she wondered if those parents realized just how precious every moment truly is.
Our oldest son had just returned to college for second semester and as our nest marched inexorably toward empty we found ourselves flooded with emotion—with gratitude for all the love we have shared, and with melancholy for how swiftly all our treasured moments flicker past.
But then Andy acknowledged that she also remembers all the terribly hard times, the frustrating and even boring patches and she realized that while she cherishes the tender memories, she really does not long to return to the past.
I'm in the midst of Katrina Kenison's Magical Journey, which is a brilliant evocation of the feelings, challenges and opportunities that arise in the context of the empty nest (for my review of her book see: May I recommend a Book?). The ultimate take-away for Katrina about everything from the loss of a dear friend to yoga teacher training to Joseph Campbell's hero's journey is: it's all about love.
As a parent, a friend, a husband, a writer and a therapist I could not agree more.
But what is "love?" What makes us feel love? Perhaps it has something to do with feeling truly seen, or understood, or when our emotions and experiences and memories and fears and hopes and dreams are not just acknowledged but tasted, sensed, felt, heard, shared… loved.
We live in a culture that places great stock in becoming "independent." We seem to believe that if only we can become good enough ("successful" at any and every thing from money to appearance to status) we will then be loved.
And this is the root of much of our suffering, for those who feel unsuccessful in our all-too-often brutally competitive world imagine that the lack of feeling truly seen, understood and loved derives from some sort of lack in our selves, our characters, our genes or our families.
Yet the baby is lovable from the moment she arrives in our arms and need do nothing to earn or merit love. We confuse and confabulate success with love, but all we need to be lovable is to love others. A soft and compassionate heart is always an asset in this regard, yet maybe loving the world relentlessly, bravely, romantically also softens our hearts and renders us compassionate.
I don't want to be alone. It does not call to me. It is my greatest fear. I can enjoy my "alone time," but even then my heart is filled with those I love, living and no longer living.
As a psychologist, and as a writer, I have been learning that people want to tell their stories, and they want to hear stories; they do not thirst deeply for advice, but rather for the love that might help them trust their own instincts.
So wherever you may be in the pony-ride circle of life—tall in the saddle, waving at the little hero on her journey or watching from across the way as parent and child wave to each other—my child-like wish is that all of us might know, and deeply trust, that we are not alone.
We get exhausted along the way, yet we mourn the quiet when the house grows still. We fear endings, but perhaps the treasure waiting down the road is the realization that all of it has been, and still remains, precious. Perhaps it is the softened heart that finds this treasure; perhaps the treasure is the wildly soft heart itself.