Facing backwards while riding the up escalator, she squinted across the terminal to catch a final glimpse of the mixed emotions in her parents’ faces. On seeing us, her face lit up and we received one last enthusiastic wave before she disappeared behind the overhang. The unseen pivot at the top was her entrance into her dream.
That dream involves places with names like Queens, and Astoria, and Hell’s Kitchen, and Times Square. It is the adventure of doing what you were trained to do, as well as what you have been called to do, in the place where you most want to do it. It is, in fact, what she has been preparing to do for the last 24 years.
Her grandmother preceded her in this great New York escapade by 66 years, a young pianist fresh out of Peabody pursuing a master’s at Columbia. I can only imagine how excited Mom was as a gifted musician to embrace the arts present there, since as an accountant I tend to associate Manhattan with Wall Street. After finishing her Ivy League degree, she took a train to Dallas, met my father-in-law, and the rest is history.
When we think of our children, we tell stories of the homecomings. We celebrate the times we gather as a whole family at the beach, or at a farmhouse at Christmas. We rejoice, as we should, at being together, at the chance to express love in meaningful conversations.
But there is an important part of love that involves choosing to be apart. I have found for each of my children that their destinies and, in fact, the richness in their lives as adults, have come from their intentional choices to leave. Four of the five went away to college, two have had impactful overseas experiences, and two have served extensively at summer camps. One daughter went to college, married and settled in Tennessee.
Because I am a professor, I regularly encounter parents who are on the other side of these choices, bringing to Texas A&M their most valued investment, young people who have chosen to leave them. There is a mixture of pride and dismay in Mom’s and Dad’s faces as they contemplate their child beginning this adventure. And no matter how many times they claim they can’t wait to get them off the payroll, there is a hint in the air of melancholy, of the permanent surrender of how things once were. I can tell you, as a parent, it is hard to get past that.
But I have found also that it is that letting go that provides the fuel that launches our children out of the safe orbit of home. For a season, that is where they belong—but not for a lifetime. There is too much they were meant to do, and to become. There are those lives out there who need them, and what their parents and their faith have built into them.
And in some sense we at Texas A&M are the halfway house to the fruitful lives they will live. They will build their friendships, find meaning in work and service, and establish their priorities, while they develop the discipline that goes with earning their degree. Because of this, I am privileged to have, week after week, meaningful conversations with these remarkable people in formation.
But today, I am a daddy, less than six hours removed from that airline terminal where my curly-haired girl disappeared out of sight. She has already landed, and moved on. Me, not so much.
Sixty-six years later, her grandmother is deeply loved and well cared for. But in this latter season of sameness she endures with such grace, she also longs in her heart for the day when she went away, by choice.
So sleep well, little girl, on your first night in your new, and awful, and wonderful place. You were meant for this.
And I was meant to let you go.