Knowing it is coming, yet not wanting it to arrive
Last week I was invited to attend Aero India 2023 in Bengaluru. This famous event which has been termed “world-class” by anyone who has attended got me excited. Being aware that the notorious Bengaluru traffic could be a spoiler, I decided to leave early and return early. This led to an unintended experience. My on-the-road times coincided with the anxious parents waiting to help kids get on to the school buses, and when I returned in the early afternoon, parents were waiting to get their kids off the school buses.
This got me thinking that we had done this all as well in our lives, sending our kids off to college…away from home. I will not be talking about the 14th Aero India show, a stellar show, that you must have read or seen; but about the sideshow. Do read on.
Knowing it is coming, yet not wanting it to arrive
We, the generation born in the 60s are heading toward the later stages of our personal and professional lives. Most of the members of our nuclear family have lived together for most of their careers and lives. The lifecycle of a family comprises stages with distinct beginnings and most of the time conclusive ends. Each stage is with its range of emotions.
Our generation of parents has dealt with a stage called Empty Nest Syndrome. Dorothy Canfield coined the term “Empty Nest” in her book, Mothers and Children (1914). As explained, the “Empty Nest” is the phase that begins with the contraction of the family life cycle in which children move out of their parental home to relocate either to a different city or country for educational and professional pursuits.
This syndrome catches us with an eerie blend of “the knowing, yet sudden surprise” that awaits us. We all know it is coming but do not want it to arrive.
Most of us would have this lump-in-the-throat experience when dropping off our son(s) or daughter(s) at college, away from home.
Days ago, I came across a wonderful poem penned by the Lebanese-American poet, painter, and philosopher Khalil Gibran (1883–1931) — “On Children”. The sensitive sagacity and the deep meaningful advice shared in this short poem could be of help to parents as they weather the storm of the painful ritual of parting as it did to us as well. I am not trying to be an expert in parenting, but am honestly trying to share the impact that the 13 lines below from this short poem had on me.
Our personal experience
As my wife and I dropped off our son as a freshman at college we both put up our best faces, possibly looking like the worst that this circumstance had imposed on us.
How could the boy transition from the comforts of home and adjust to the unknown and carry out the on-your-own university life? Adulting would be a harsh reality for our son …. we felt like any concerned parent. Did we train him enough for this? Would this make him wise and strong or lonely and weak?
Here are the following excerpts from Gibran’s poem that provides succour:
“…Your children are not your children….” — Khalil Gibran
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they do belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls’ dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”
“…You are the bows from which your children, as living arrows, are sent forth…” -Khalil Gibran
“You are the bows from which your children, as living arrows, are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”
Balancing the power intimacy with the need for independence
These profound and pristine verses provide the finest advice ever offered to balance intimacy and independence which is the building block of any healthy relationship… and parenting is one of them.
The emotions of the parent leaving the child at the gates of the dormitory is a curious blend of pride, anxiety, and grief duly experienced through that involuntary lump in the throat and the welling of tears in the eyes.
Leaving the child to a world of the unknown is hard on the parents as well for the child. Both would experience the adjustments that come to bear; the child staying away for the first time and the parents missing her for the first time.
We, the parents will gradually and grudgingly let it go all the while realizing that our parts in the child’s life would diminish like the air pressure of a leaky tire.
The transition of the parent from one as a provider of the robust support structure (visualized as the large palm holding the tiny hand) to the middle-aged man paying the bills and inevitably progressing to the much-loved shadow of themselves; appears surprisingly fleeting as the shooting of an “Arrow” from across the “Bow”.
Parenthood offers many lessons in patience and sacrifice. The parent is humbled by the fact that her life is just a short stage in the child’s story. And Gibran has expressed it so eloquently — “…. For even as He loves the arrow that flies….”.
The classic Principles transcend time, culture, and religion
Our ancestors have actually thought through this parting, which is painful yet inevitable. Do we not recollect the four stages of life referred to in our ancient scriptures — Brahmacharya (first stage from childhood to coming of age as a student), Grihastha (the householder), Vanaprastha (withdrawal from active life as in retirement), and Sannyasa (renouncing material attachments and focussing on spiritual pursuits)? Revisiting this could provide us with much-needed comfort.
Overall, while the four stages of life described in the Vedas may not be directly applicable in their original form in modern society, its core values and classic principles have transcended time, culture, and religion.
The concluding note
Did the 18-year window close quickly, possibly yes; but the sacred and timeless scriptures should give us the solace that it is the way life is. Will the young parents of today’s generation be able to transition from being selfless caregivers as evidenced by the early morning and afternoon rituals, shared above; and let it go during the adulting years of the child?
Yes, an emphatic YES!
Published in World-ly Wise , Somjit Amrit