Hello goodbye: When grown children greet us as adults

By Zach Harris
Posted 8/23/19

I just made a quick trip this past week, which upon casual observation was just a blip on the horizon. But upon a little more reflection, it was actually one of those sea change moments in …

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Hello goodbye: When grown children greet us as adults

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I just made a quick trip this past week, which upon casual observation was just a blip on the horizon. But upon a little more reflection, it was actually one of those sea change moments in life.

On Tuesday, after a daylong conference with fellow pastors and our bishop, I flew to Boston. About 24 hours later, I got on a similar flight and reversed my course and ended up right back at home where one would have presumed I would have been the night before. It doesn’t seem to warrant much introspection to have a missing day as I would be unable to recall how many days in my life I would be oblivious to tell you what might have happened during those 24 hours only the very next week.

Was the day lost because of illness? Was it one of those pesky fix-it situations that a leaky pipe or cantankerous old car can use to eat up a whole day? Was Netflix the culprit, and binge-watching the non-productive activity?

Alas, it was none of those culprits. In fact, it wasn’t even unexpected, but rather part of a long thought-out plan. It was the time set aside for our boy to move away — again.

I’ve written a bit about this before, but we have adult children who have been “adulting” for a while. Technically, I fall under the category of stepdad, but so was Joseph to Jesus. However, I’m betting even he knew that technicalities cannot dissuade parental pride in your kids’ achievements!

So, there is this boy who went away to college, and we felt the shock of loss and sadness of being apart. He got a first job far away before he was accepted at a rather esteemed job that happened to be nearby in North Carolina. Here he was in our own backyard! He and his awesome, beloved girlfriend have been literally with us on a weekly basis for meals and family celebrations, various community events, movies, golf, and in those kinds of deep conversations that you can only have with someone whose love can see beyond the quirks and flaws (trust me, he has to look hard when trying to get beyond mine).

But last fall, he decided to take a shot at going to law school (apparently these Millennials really do need to get three or so careers out of the way by age 30). Which brings us to this past week’s long-known plan to get him planted in Boston to study law at a little school named Harvard.

And with all the logistics to get 700 miles away, there have been all sorts of things he has had to do and things that my wife has taken on for him, and then my little part in helping the move. The hardest part, he tells us, is getting into Harvard and that part is taken care of! So we have all been trying to get things ready for this past Tuesday.

Our son drove a rental truck for 14 hours to get his stuff to his new place. His girlfriend and I did our separate stuff during the day. And then, she graciously shepherded me through airports and Ubers to my true calling on this adventure: pack mule to carry stuff up three flights of stairs without killing myself or my son or his girlfriend. Halfway through Wednesday: Mission accomplished! Logistics completed. Once again, boy — gone from home.

But we had all been so entranced by getting the details right that we didn’t really “get it” until the last moments. It happened in smatterings at different times. As we finished packing the truck, my wife, who would not be making the journey with us on Tuesday, seemed to be struck by it. And though we all had talked about the luxury of proximity being gone for the next three years, the reality that that luxury probably would not repeat itself had just been simply overlooked! And in conversation after unloading the truck and seeing the new actual residence, it started to hit me that time had changed.

We had said goodbye to our child before. That, we were used to. But somehow, this was different. The mantle shifted a bit more in that parent/child paradigm and now we were saying hello to the adult.

He could feel it. We could feel it. Even if no one could verbalize it, on all our parts, until the final overly long hug laced with tears held fast by sadness, hope, fear and overwhelming love that goes beyond the pale.

I’m sure every parent knows the moment I’m describing. It’s the moment when everything Mom and Dad have worked toward and hoped for and maybe even experienced takes wings and becomes all too real. We hope for the betterment of the next generation, that they would have more than we had of the good of life and less of the trials and turmoil. As the song says, “More I cannot wish you than to wish you find your love.” It is the moment when I realized that the tattered trail of what I had hoped life might be has an actual chance as the baton is passed to the next generation!

But to be perfectly honest, I was rushing off to head back to my old world while I sent my son off to a world that I know nothing about. The only thing I was sure of was that he is ready to face the challenges ahead and make that world a better place.

My own father used to tell me that I could never love him as much as he loved me. It simply was not possible because he knew me longer! I don’t know if there is any quantifiable difference in the category of love. Pride in another is a different matter.

And in reflecting on parents letting go of children, it was not a huge leap to think about what the emotional sacrifice of God the Father experienced in giving away his only Son to a world that he could not understand. However, I am sure that the constants of love and pride in the offspring; the paradox of the separation of worlds (even life and death) matched with a union of love that can never be torn apart; and the need to let go as much as hold on, are all intrinsic to that moment.

In a blip this past week, our family said hello, goodbye, laughed and cried and shared the absolute terror and pangs of a family’s love, all of which can only tell you that no matter how far apart one may go, we are always together and no matter how forlorn we feel, the love will bring us back.

The great thing is to have a faith and a God who can do the same.

Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 28 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” appears weekly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.