(** Also could be titled “my muddled and momentarily successful attempt at dealing with the pending reality of the dreaded empty nest”)
I learned something interesting this week from my seminary professor. According to him, “for Jewish thinking, the future is what lies behind you, because you can’t see it; the past is what lies ahead of you, because you can see it. Life is like rowing a boat.” (Thanks to Dr. Goldingay)
To understand this, I mentally put myself on a quiet lake in a rowboat and looked up – I saw the shore from which I had come, and I imagined the yet-uncrossed waters behind me, and the analogy made sense. The past is what I see with my eyes in “front” of me, and the future is the uncharted territory “behind” me.
Shoot, because I’m a regret person. Someone who stares at the past, hoping it will turn out differently this time.
Some people are anxiety people (they fear the future) and some people are regret people like me (we fear the past). Being a regret person makes getting older a peculiar kind of nasty. The more stuff there is in the past, the bigger the potential landscape of regret gets.
My landscape is about to get really big, really fast. Our youngest son leaves for college in August, but first he leaves for South Africa in June. That means I am less than three months away from the big, the bad, the scary, the ugly, the regret-goes-big empty nest season.
So I walked the dog. (This is what we do when it’s pretty out and we are having empty nest thoughts and trying to work on a Wednesday.)
Our neighborhood is quite ordinary. There are 60’s era homes with carports. There are scraggly azalea bushes. There are overgrown wisteria weeds and random Lenten roses. There are trees whose roots upend driveways and whose shade is way too wide these days. The street where I walk the dog is an aging and haphazard overlay on a once-upon-a-time orderly line of tidy homes – and dreams.
But today, stretched out in front of me on that street I saw a vibrant explosion of beauty. Everywhere I looked, the sun illuminated color and foliage and life. The road ahead was nearly humming with the spectacular glory of life covering mess and beauty eclipsing chaos that spring always offers.
All of the sudden, the Jewish “rowboat with the past out in front” analogy came back to me and I envisioned it differently.
The nest will empty.
The past will yawn wide in my vision, tempting me toward cycles of regret.
The messy parts that are beyond repair will show up and show out as I stare at the past that grows in my field of vision.
The past will also bloom.
It will bloom into life.
The past will yield beauty in the people I’ve loved, however imperfectly or however suffocatingly I’ve offered my love.
The beauty may look good on the chaos.
It might even add charm to the mess.
It will lend a soft overlay of glory to the hard edges of unfinished parenting work. The “I wishes” and the “I should haves” and the “if only I could haves” that populate the past in front of me. They will be there, but on this glorious spring day, I dare myself to look for the blooming beauty in the past that lies ahead, as well.
I think they call that transformation, “redemption.” And so I will breathe deeply, look into the past, and watch for the beauty.
May it be so.