We still haven't had much time for hiking since getting back from Scotland. Today--with everyone off at their various schools--I put on my day pack and walked a 7ish mile walk that I like. It starts and ends at the parsonage door. It cuts downtown. Then I loop to home through the Wellesley College campus. The college is pretty this time of year. It has this sculpted-nature look popular with Olmstead-influenced parks. The campus pretends to be wild around the edges but you can see the artifice behind it. Still, it is pretty and my body doesn't know the difference.
I probably won't be walking there for a while, though. The students are slowly returning and the place was starting to get crowded. I feel like I am in the way then. There is a certain energy and bustle at a college campus when it is in session. Everyone has a reason to be there...except me.
Walking around and thinking of the new school year I found myself reminiscing to myself about a hike I took back in March. It was a road trip with a hike in it, actually. That was when I drove my eldest son down to Georgia to begin the Appalachian Trail. I am not great at transitions, so I volunteered to drive to the trailhead and do some of the approach trail with him before he got on his way. I am glad I did. We took a couple days to get there and then we hiked for most of a day. I was with him half the time and then left him in a grove of trees chatting away with other through-hikers. They were speculating on the adventure rolling out before them.
This phase of parenting is strange. When my eldest was born it was all hellos. Slowly the goodbyes crept in and now the goodbyes are more frequent and more difficult.
I have seen the boy a couple times since. Once we got to spend a few days in Harper's Ferry at the symbolic halfway point. Once we took him and his friends out to dinner in Woodstock, New Hampshire for his birthday. They all call him "Trumpet" which is a cool trail name based on his tendency to rehearse before others get to camp.
Yesterday I helped his middle brother move into his first apartment with his girlfriend. It was quite a summer for both of them. He went to study in Oxford, England (this is the first sabbatical I will have that doesn't include his unschooling). She visited family in Michigan and got them both ready for the move. They are doing the sorts of things people do at their age. I remember a similar moment in my own life, of course. Here is the thing, though, each time is still the first time.
I was invited to visit today as well but didn't go. I regret it. Like I said, I am not good at goodbyes. They just live a couple hours away. It is a chore to drive out but doable. I think they will get lots of visits from many people. Neither his mom nor his girlfriend's mom have been able to get out there yet. I am already thinking about hitting them up next week and do some hiking in the valley. I also have a couple of nieces out there who might let me buy them lunch...
I drove the girlfriend's dad home yesterday and we were both in a thoughtful mood. We were remembering the kids we once knew and feeling proud of the adults they have become. They are great people and this new chapter is very exciting. I cannot wait to see what it brings.
I didn't go up today partly to give them some space but there is another reason. The littlest brother's first day of Junior year was on Wednesday. This is Friday. With Allison still away at grad school I thought a hello was in order for that boy, too. We will have dinner, talk about the week, plan for the weekend and probably watch TV. Then we will wait for Mom to come home. As with his brothers, I value the time I get to spend with him.
Anyway, I have gotten some practice at these goodbyes over the years. They aren't any easier and every time we reach this period, I wonder where the children are--the former children really--who I used to spend time with. The year Trumpet went away to college there were a number of other youth groupers who also went away and ceased to be youths. This morning walking through Wellesley College I remembered a letter I wrote to them all back then. Here is a part of it.
"I want to point out something that as kids you may not have noticed but that you might notice as you get older and hang around Eliot Church. What I hope you notice (because it is true) is that this congregation loves you.
Imagine Thanksgiving Sunday--the first one after graduating high school--and you go to church with your parents (actually some former youth groupers show up on their own these days). You get there at the usual time--right before we start--and the deacon at the door says your name and gives you a hug. Then when you sit down, the old woman in front of you (who you may never remember ever talking to) turns around to pat your hand and welcome you back. I may have waved to you from the chancel. Other adults come to say "hi".
Then what happens? We do church. It is just like it has always been except there are some new faces and a few people who aren't there. Maybe--now that you are a college student--you fidget a bit less. The familiar hymns sound better. Hopefully, even the sermon makes some sense. Then it all starts again at the potluck. You look around for your high school friends but it takes a while to get to them. It's those darn old people. The pastors want to talk to you and see how you are doing. Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of your time.
Please be patient with us. Whether you remember us all or not, we are the people who saw you crawl down the aisle as animals in the pageant. Since that time we have witnessed your development. We saw you reach the exalted heights of "Innkeeper". We saw you sing in the choir, or play in the Ukestra, or do readings. We even saw you when you held back. We saw you at the ski trip and the baseball game. Some folks taught your classes (we hope you remember us!). Others didn't, but they still noticed you. Your parents have kept us informed of your adventures.
I could go on. We remember when high school got busy and you couldn't make it. Some of you might feel even that you "dropped out" of church. It doesn't actually work that way. We still notice--and appreciate it--when you do make it. We are always happy to see you.
The church--particularly a small church like ours--is a kind of family. We have always seen you as a part of that family. We keep a place for you. When you return to fill that place, it brings us joy. Next year, and for a number of years after, there will be a lot of you moving on. We know that is part of the drill. I hope that wherever you go, you remember us fondly. I will remember you and so will all those other people whose lives you touched and who touched yours.
Don't be strangers. You can't be, after all.
Faith and Hope,
Here is to all those adults who say their hellos and goodbyes to the young people they love and care for. Let us remember that there will be more hellos.
I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.