I remember the moment. I was driving down Route 422 in Bainbridge Township, Ohio. I’d picked up a few new-to-me cds from the local library, trying to discover some new music.
Dar Williams was a familiar name, but I’d never heard her music. The Beauty of the Rain was the library’s offering, and from the moment I slipped it in the narrow opening of the cd player in the Big Red Suburban, I was captivated.
I was separated from the father of my five kids. My heart was in ashes, my starving, skinny frame sleeping in an unfamiliar bed in an old farmhouse that the kids referred to as “The Fake House”. I was navigating life on my own, trying to work full-time, wrangle my young children and piece together the broken mess I’d made of my life.
The album opens with “The Mercy of the Fallen”, and as I steered that Big Red Suburban through the wind and rain and sleet and snow, I felt like I belonged in some deep vat of collective self-inflicted suffering:
There’s the wind and the rain and the mercy of the fallen
Who say they have no claim to know what’s right
There’s the weak and the strong
And the beds that have no answers
And that’s where I may rest my head tonight
I cried. I drove, and I cried.
But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about another song on that cd, one that began to write a story in my soul that reaches a climactic point tomorrow.
All the things you treasure most will be the hardest won
I will watch you struggle on before the answers come
But I won’t make it harder, I’ll be there to cheer you on
I’ll shine the light that guides you down the road you’re walking on
And you’ll fly away
But take my hand until that day
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job’s done, you’ll be the one who knows
This girl is leaving home tomorrow. A few summers ago, I watched her fly away – literally – to spend her summer in Germany. And then she went back again. She flew away – but she always came back.
Tomorrow she leaves this home, and there is no return ticket. She is ready to go. I’m not sure she will ever come back, at least not like she’s been here before.
She is 21, and she is ready.
This evening, I thought back to those moments I spent listening to that song. They were a warning, I suppose; an indication of where my priorities ought to be as I parented my children. The best judge of my love for them wouldn’t lie in what the people in my church thought, or my neighbors, or even my mom and dad. Or, maybe, even in my own assessment.
The length and depth and breadth of my love for my kids would be best and most honestly evaluated when they arrived at the place where they could look back. And I had no idea, then, what would transpire in the coming years. I could never imagine the struggles we would face, the roads she would walk. I took heed to that song then, never realizing how quickly we’d get to this place.
I’ve just kept shining that light, as best I could.
Yesterday, I sat in the rocking chair and cried, the tears telling the truth about my anxiety and my worry, my fear – not so much for her, but for the absence of me in her day to day life. Who will watch her? Who will see when she’s anxious, know when she’s worried, understand when it’s midnight and she just needs to flop on the bed and talk?
Who is going to shine the light now, when she is 500 miles away from me?
I cried, the tears unable and unwilling to stay bottled up, and I spit out a few feeble words to my husband. And then she walked around the corner and said, “Ah, mom….”
I sat in the rocking chair, crying, and she sat on my lap, and I saw then and there how things change because they can’t stay the same, and she stroked my hair and hugged me and said, “Mama, it’ll be okay.”
She’s held my hand all along, and now this part of my job is done.
How far does love go?