Two weeks after we dropped Michael off at college he called to tell us his right foot was fractured.
We had moved him to school knowing about his swollen foot but he had insisted it was fine, he had just landed on it wrong and that it was getting better. Although I had one of those nagging feelings about it. Call it mother’s intuition but I wasn’t surprised when he phoned me after a week and a half of rowing practices and told me he needed to find a doctor in his new city. I did really well until he was referred to an orthopedic surgeon because his X-rays indicated a possible problem with his healing.
I called Mr. Moss at work.
“What should we do? Do you think we should have Michael call us from the doctor’s office so we can talk to the orthopedic surgeon, ask him our questions? He could put us on speaker phone.”
“No Les, he’s eighteen years old. He’s already two weeks into his healing, he can ask the questions.”
“What?!” This didn’t feel good to me…in fact I could feel my anxiety growing.”He doesn’t know what to ask!”
“It’s ok. We’ll talk to him before he goes in and make sure he knows what information to cover.”
When I put the phone down I was still grumbling inside and thinking about the four hundred and fifty miles that now separated us. But I decided to take a deep breath and step back. Alright I thought, I can do this new thing that feels so weird to me. I need to back off and believe this will be ok (like I really had a choice).
And you know what?
It did end up being fine. Another instance of twisting and shoving myself through that tiny, mouse-sized door of trust. Met with a bit of success.
But it’s funny how quickly that sensation of letting go can hit you. Sometimes it feels like a soft, reminiscent ache. Like my first trip to the grocery store after the college drop-off when it hit me that I wouldn’t need to buy all those specially requested cereals anymore. Of course not, I thought, Michael’s buying his own now. But it felt like something real and tangible was right there in front of me and suddenly… it’s not. A whisper of loss.
And sometimes letting go feels like a jolt to my universe, like a blustering threat to my very identity. Hey, I want to shout back to the universe, I am a Mom. This is what I do. I go to doctor appointments, I fill out the information on the clipboard, I thumb through magazines and chat with my kids about their day at school. I see the doctor and I leave satisfied when I get my questions answered.
Yes, it’s true that Michael is eighteen years old but when it comes to sickness and broken bones and medical specialists my heart still remembers him like this.
Until something as ordinary as a trip to a doctor’s office, one I can’t be part of, reminds me that life is always changing. And that this new territory referred to as the ‘empty nest’ offers incredible possibilities.
There is value in these achy growing pains, my wiser self tells me. A kind of soulful transformation that happens when you dare to slow down and re-discover yourself. When you listen to your feelings. When you find compassion for those old, stagnating fears underneath all that holding on and trying to control.
This is the promise of letting go, it’s the quiet invitation to become something new, something more, someone wiser.
I recently heard this wonderful story from Tara Brach about facing our fears and it goes like this.
According to legend, the Buddha had a name for his shadow side—all those feelings of greed, fear, hate, sadness, suffering etc...and he called these, Mara. And throughout his life whenever his shadow side called Mara would appear in front of him his response was open and inviting. He would say: “I see you Mara, please come…let’s have tea.”
Buddhists use this story as an example of how to approach our own humanness, those painful emotions that are part of living. Instead of being reactive and fighting these uncomfortable feelings, or disconnecting from them or suppressing them, the Buddha is open to them. He wants to fully know them and so he invites them over. His approach is one that welcomes awareness, “Oh, so this is what fear feels like…” he might say. And he would open his heart to learn more.
I just love this story. It’s such a compassionate way to treat our own fears and struggles.
How do you talk to yourself?