I lived in Boston for 17 of my adult years. I think of those years as my creative power years. We were creating babies and families, building careers and businesses, designing houses and homes that would be our best effort at secure bases for our children. It was truly the full-on time of life and I am deeply grateful for the families and soul sisters who were navigating similar journeys, and for all the connection and memories we share to this day.
Our family left Boston and moved to Jackson Hole nearly a decade ago, but this weekend I was back in Boston and able to spend some spacious time with these old friends. We are all in our mid-50s now. And all the kids who pitter-pattered, giggled and yelled down the familiar hallways and kitchens are now between 17 and 27 years old. The last of the high school graduations are nearly over.
So, at every dinner, along every quiet walk, with every shared cup of coffee or wine, the question that echoed was the same: “What’s next?” It didn’t matter if they had stayed home or managed presidential campaigns, had birthed many children or chosen to be the world’s greatest aunt or uncle, we all seemed to feel a similar mix of excitement, anxiety, grief and twinkle. The rails are off the bus. The path of parental responsibilities and cultural expectations seems to have disappeared into a wide-open field of possibilities, sometimes feeling more like a scary mine field. There is no longer the endless list of to dos for others and responsibilities to divert our attention when we ask each other “what do you want for you?” There lies wide open, the possibility of time and choice.
As a woman, I believe there is also another piece to this shift that brings up strong emotion every time I allow myself to think about this newfound independence. And that is the visceral shift in touch. For so many years, we were burped (and farted) on, clutched, sometimes with death grips (especially if we needed to be somewhere quickly), grabbed around the legs, hugged tightly around the necks, had a growing hand in ours, snuggled at night, and of course, told how wrong we were by teenagers. Sometimes we escaped to the bathroom, just to have a few minutes alone. That powerful, tangible manifestation of love and security fed us, even if it exhausted us sometimes. The absence of being so needed can leave a hole.
And I think our (and my) opportunity is not to fill the hole too quickly. The hole has painful moments, lonely moments and scary moments – and it sometimes begs to be filled too quickly with a glass of wine, a YES before thinking we’d rather stay home and read a book, a bitterness around things that didn’t turn out how we had wished and even just the realization that some choices have passed (I guess it’s time to face the fact that I may be too old to go to medical school).
But, what if we allow ourselves some time to observe that hollow place inside? What if we gave ourselves the space to feel all the emotions that arise from the emptiness of that void without judgment? What if we allow ourselves a few minutes or more every day to just send love to that hollow space – not answers, just love? Instead of finding a distraction for our loneliness, what if we breathe in the power of all that love we gave over the past few decades and really give it back to ourselves? And, with each breath out, we share the love we are cultivating for ourselves with everything around us.
During this reflective time of graduation, I want to honor parents in their second act of life and deeply thank my wise friends who so fill my heart with love as I write this.
May we allow this time of contemplation – and it takes time. May we know that the answers will come from our hearts first, not our heads. By being love, answers will come. We just need to allow ourselves to get quiet enough to listen – and commit to the daily practice of cultivating a few minutes every day of that quiet breathing.