Editorial: Empty nest
Thirty-one years ago this month, I unexpectedly got a place a St Martin’s College, Lancaster, and my mum drove me up the motorway from London.
As we were early, we walked around the town in the rain, without managing to find the high street. Then we met my roommate, unpacked my guitars, amp, stereo and doubtless a few clothes, and my mum drove home.
Before we left home, she said to me: ‘The only thing I ask is you come home for your first Christmas.’ It seemed a strange thing to say. I said: ‘Yeah, I was going to do that anyway.’
When I did come home, I heard her telling people about how she drove back from Lancaster telling herself all the way: ‘It’s all right, Mo, he’s not dead.’ I had literally no idea what she was going on about. Of course I wasn’t dead, I was in Lancaster. It was a bit rainy, but I was having the time of my life and seizing my future. I had no clue, or curiosity, what it meant for her to be going back to an empty house without the person she had spent 20 years raising from screaming baby to an equally noisy man.
Now I get it. Ten brutally short days from now, I will drive my elder son to university, and come back home to the space he’s left. Two years later, I suspect his brother will follow. And then it will all be over. I mean, they won’t be dead – Oliver will be in York – but they’ll be gone.
Part of me thinks: Thank God they won’t be able to afford their own place when they graduate. But a larger part of me, I hope, loves the thought of them spreading their wings and flying, living their lives, having loves, careers, friends, passions and pursuits, adventures and formative experiences. That’s what love means. But I also expect to miss them terribly, because that’s also what love means.
I’ve long been troubled by Jesus’ words: ‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’ Is he not telling me I am unworthy to call myself his follower?
Yes, maybe. But maybe there is also something else there about how to love right. There is grasping, obsessive love, where I need you for my own happiness, cannot bear to let go of you, and make our relationship a god that takes priority over everything else. And there is a love that rejoices in what we share, and gives without counting the cost, which enriches both of our lives, and other people’s, and is able to make room for all the other things that rightfully call on my life.
I’ve told Oliver that, to fill the gap when he goes, I’ll need to get a robot that can empty the bins, but doesn’t. I tell myself that the space that is coming may be hard, but it will be good.
This article was published in the October 2019 edition of Reform