Life is full of these moments of transition, of uncertainty and discovery.  People coming and going, growing up, moving away, coming back… waves on the sand, life seems to be continuously in flux, and you just can’t hold it still.

Yesterday I delivered Emma to her first sleep-away summer camp; she’ll be there for three weeks. Today my brother flies off to start his cardiology fellowship at Duke for several years, and Patty is driving Max to his first camp as well.  Not momentous events on a global scale — but for us, a Big Deal, and tomorrow feels lonely.

off to campYesterday Emma was overflowing with this amazing blend of completely excited and terrified.  As we got closer to the camp she was gripping my arm so tightly I thought I’d have bruises.  Interlochen is like Hogwarts for artsy kids, and as we drove into the camp past all the theatres and stages, she was trembling in excitement.  Once she met the other almost-all-first-time girls in her cabin, and her very sweet counselors, the terror dropped away and I was quickly not-so-needed.

I feel this incredible pride and honor in witnessing her strides, and a loss.  It reminded me of when I was a teacher, the first time my students were graduating and I just couldn’t stop tears flowing — one of the other teachers said, “You should be happy, this is what we’ve been working toward…” and I was happy, but happy and sad are not so far apart as all that.

Seeing all these kids so excited, so passionate, so scared, so vital, I was also filled with a larger nostalgia. So much LIFE all around, so much potential, so much discovery — new friends, the bliss of full immersion into weeks of learning.  Walking through camp, the air was textured with dozens of different musics from the rehearsal cabins, and everywhere were children in their new uniforms looking like plants about to burst into flower.  And I wasn’t going to be part of this adventure.

I am deeply happy for Emma to be part of this, and so proud that she’s such an accomplished and awake person, and I know that I am part of the adventure through her.  Nonetheless I had this sense of loss.  Or maybe more accurately, of questioning.  All these feelings stirring around, perhaps I could boil them down to this: Am I living my life, or simply passing through it?

I suspect the emotional turmoil of all of life’s transitions center on questions like this.  We have feelings to signal us, a big feeling means, “Pay Attention! Something important is happening…”  So walking along the shores of Lake Michigan after dinner, I found myself considering the last decade, and a few before that.  And the next ones.

In almost every way, it’s hard for me to imagine a better life than what I’m living now.  Yet I feel this strange paradox of the near-perfection of the moment, mixed with a sense of insecurity — of joy somehow slipping away into the past as I hesitantly step into an unknown future.  Can it possibly be better, or is it downhill from here? I’m not sure how to reconcile this.  How do I stay in love with the present, knowing it’s already gone?

It’s not so much a question of these three weeks.  Yes, today was long.  But tomorrow is back to a full schedule, and I know these days will fly by for us, and even faster for the kids.  So I think my feeling is more about the changing orbit of the stars of our family constellation.  Around a decade ago, I used that metaphor to describe how the children had transformed my life, not by doing anything, but simply by exerting an almost gravitational force of change.  Now, with a momentarily empty nest, I’m seeing how temporary these years are.  It’s not just “they’ll go to college;” it’s more immediate.  They won’t be 10 & 12 much longer.  In a minute they’ll both be teenagers.  The pace seems to be accelerating and the trajectory seems less clear.

It reminds me of this TV ad that I adore — an amazing reminder of the fragility and grace of love.  Take a look:

byeFor me, the “seat belt” they’re advocating isn’t simply literal.  There are many safety belts we can fashion in ourselves and between one another.  Some are attractive illusions of safety, but others are enduring.  They’re not certain, and they don’t stop the accidents, but they shelter what’s most important.

In relationships, some of those safety belts are honest expressions of love, the risk to share, and being present with one another.  Perhaps choosing to embrace life, despite the fleeting race of time, is one of the most powerful.  I suppose saying goodbye to your baby girl at her first camp — with both a smile and a tear — is another.

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Joshua Freedman

Joshua is one of the world’s preeminent experts on developing emotional intelligence to create positive change. With warmth and authenticity, he translates leading-edge science into practical, applicable terms that improve the quality of relationships to unlock enduring success. Joshua leads the world’s largest network of emotional intelligence practitioners and researchers.
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