"How are you feeling?" is the question I've been asked over and over this week, as our first daughter headed off to college. A friend sent me this photo, and I think it sums things up well:
As a mother, this photo rings true because I still think of my daughter as a child. Memories from every stage of her childhood are replaying in my mind as I go about my days: reminiscing our lying in the grass looking for shapes in the clouds after the picnic lunches we shared, as I weed my gardens; savoring our favorite dinner that has now been prepared for three rather than four; reciting in my head the books I read to her at bedtime as I walk into her room to make her bed, before realizing it doesn't need to be made because no one slept in it last night; hearing her laughter as I look at photos on the wall. All of these fond memories preserve my little girl as just that in my mind. The fact that this chapter of our lives is over has left a hole in my soul.
As the days pass, I feel new joy as I read the texts I receive from my daughter telling of all the wonderful things she is doing at school. Her words and photos make it clear that she is not the child of this photo. She is a young woman embarking on her life journey - a journey that will take her beyond the walls of her childhood. I truly could not be more happy for her.
How am I feeling? While my daughter's presence is missed, her present is filling the hole in my soul with new joy.
'What time is it?' is a question we ask often. Our lives seem to revolve around time. As a modern, connected, upward-moving society, we have come to rely on perfect timing to ensure that the cogs of what moves us onward and upward work precisely as intended and required.
While we generally concern ourselves with the time we measure in years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds, time also passes in less quantifiable increments. It's easy to miss these bits of time passing, if we are too focused on the minutiae of measured time; however, they are significant.
I recently attended the funeral of my uncle, who was a farmer. The officiant shared this Bible verse, as a metaphor for my uncle's life:
There is a time for everything.
There is a time for planting and a time for pulling up.
There is a time for the killing and the time for healing.
There is a time for tearing down a time for building.
There is a time for sorrow and a time for joy.
There is a time for mourning and a time for dancing.
There is a time for making love and a time for not making love.
There is a time for kissing and a time for not kissing.
There is a time for finding and a time for losing.
There is a time for saving and a time for throwing away.
There is a time for tearing and a time for mending.
There is a time for silence and a time for talk.
There is a time for love and a time for hate.
There is a time for war and a time for peace.
--Ecclesiastes 3 verses 2-8
This ode to time felt appropriate to honor my uncle, and all farmers, who certainly live by measured time like everyone else, but who also live according to this more imprecise timetable, trusting that everything happens in its time. Calves are born; cows die. Seeds are planted; crops harvested. Food is stored; waste removed. No one knows precisely when these things will happen, but all know they will happen.
Some versions of this verse use the term "season" in place of "time." "Season" suggests a span or stage, an age or epoch. Interestingly, the word "season" when used as a verb also can mean to acclimate or to soften. These two definitions of the word "season," taken together, suggest that time, or the season, will allow us to become accustomed to what occurs, if we are patient and trust it will.
As family and friends mourn the death of my dear uncle, we find peace knowing that his body no longer suffers, and that he will live again. At the same time, we anticipate the birth of our friend's new baby, appreciating the circle of life.
As I (and my sisters and friends) prepare to watch our children leave for college, the promise of an anticipated homecoming comforts us as we watch them go, as does the joy of watching them continue on their journey to become the people they are to be.
As we savor the fleeting summer days of August, we look forward to what Fall will bring, and then Winter, which will turn into Spring, before we are enjoying another Summer.
We trust that measured time . . . seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years . . . will never end. May we also trust that the seasons of time will also never end, and that every season of pain or sorrow will be followed by a season of peace or joy.
What time is it? Whatever the time, be joyful, for it too shall pass.
Is a mother's love unending?
As I mourn for and with the mother orca, Tahlequah, in the Pacific Northwest, who is risking her own life, desperately clinging to her calf a full two weeks after its premature death shortly after birth, it is apparent that her love is quite literally unending, as she is either unwilling to allow her child's life to end, because she believes her child is still alive, or she is unwilling to allow her mourning to end. Their story can be read via the link above.
As a fellow mother, I am suffering pangs of heartache, sorrow, and agony with and for her. I cannot fathom the depth of her grief, given the intensity of mine as a mere observer.
Tahlequah is giving all of herself for her calf's life. As mothers going about the daily work of motherhood, we can all relate to giving all we have so our own children survive and thrive. While most of us are not on the brink of literal death as we do so, sometimes it can feel as if motherhood is sucking the life out of us. And yet, we carry on. For our children. Because a mother's love is unending.
It is moments like this that remind me that a child is a gift. A child is an amazing gift. A child is the most precious gift. A gift to be cherished. A gift to be loved. Unending. When motherhood becomes challenging - and it does - we mothers need to summon everything we possess - physically, mentally, and emotionally - to press on to help our children survive and thrive. Mother orca is a role model for us all.
Death, the literal end of life, cannot end a mother's love for a child. In this time of sorrow, may we all allow our unending love for our own children to bring us joy - unending.
P.S. Baby orca, may you rest in peace, knowing your mother's love for you is unending. Mother Tahlequah, may you find peace, knowing your baby feels your love, and that the love you share will be unending.
author of "JOY"