It’s stuck in my head: “Ol’ man river, ‘Dat ol’ man river… He jes’ keeps rollin’, He keeps on rollin’ along.” My dad used to sing this old Show Boat tune and I’ve been thinking of it a lot the past few weeks with the coming of a new year. Like the ever onward flow of the Mississippi, time keeps rolling along, too, whether I’m ready to move on or not.
Each New Year’s celebration brings mixed feelings. Looking ahead with faith, hope, and excitement; grateful for the blessings of the past; I still savor, and mourn, what is over and only kept in memory--each fleeting year of my children’s childhood. I’ve loved every second of their lives and sometimes panic when I do the math and realize how much time has passed and how little time is left before they move on.
As sometimes happens, these emotions got the better of me one day. It wasn’t just any day. It was the last day of a family vacation, and the last day I could say that my son had never been to public school; he was to begin his freshman year the following morning by taking a couple of electives at the junior high school. It had been a fabulously fun and luxuriously leisurely camping trip and I didn’t want to go home. Even though the decision for him to take some public school classes had been made with much prayer and I knew it was right for him, I still didn’t want to let him go. He, on the other hand, was eager and looking forward to the new adventure. Our opposing emotions collided at the end of a morning hike; he was upset that I wasn’t happy for him and I was upset that he was so excited. Then I said, much too loudly, “Well excuse me for loving you so much that I want to spend every possible second with you that I can.” I burst into tears and ran to the dock on the lake.
I sat sobbing on the dock and it didn’t take long for him to follow me there. We sat there on the lake, mother and son, both in apologetic silence. A quiet, confiding conversation emerged and we found a new understanding of one another. Aware that the ticking of the clock of life would crescendo once we went home, I tried to breathe in those last few moments of summer, and essentially, the last few moments of my son’s innocent childhood, and store them forever in my heart.
You might think all was well from that moment, but it wasn’t. And I don’t even wish I could say that it was, for as I continued to struggle with missing my son and the way life was before, I turned to prayer and pondering and was blessed with an epiphany.
There is a place I like to go on my runs that is out in the fields in the country, where the only sounds are red-winged blackbirds, an occasional vole foraging in the brush, the wind in the grass, maybe a red-tailed hawk looking for the vole, and the running water of a canal. I went there a lot the first few weeks of school that year, to pour out my heart, to cry, to listen. One of those days, I sat quietly staring at the moving water, watching leaves come and go in the current. Most leaves came into view on my right, passed in front of me, and traveled to my left out of sight. A few of the leaves, on the fringes of the current, got stopped up by rocks or canal debris, their progress halted. One of the leaves got stuck in a small whirlpool, only to circle and circle and circle the same 6-inch area over and over and over. Suddenly, and yet with a slowly spreading radiance emanating from the deepest places of my soul, I knew that this was Heavenly Father showing me, plainly, unmistakably, beautifully, and lovingly the course of mortality.
The poet Austin Dobson said it this way:
Time goes, you say? Ah no!
Alas, Time stays, we go.
The leaves in the water were showing me that the intended path of life is one that “keeps on rollin’.” Birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, parenthood—growing up is traveling the current of mortality. It’s right in this life for each person to enter and exit, to move through and on. Just as those leaves passed through that section of canal, never to return to that particular place in their journey, their journey went on, and it wasgood for it to do so. Those leaves that didn’t travel on were the ones at a loss; their progress was halted and they were left in stagnant waters, or they floated in futility in fruitless, pointless circles. Neither of these latter scenarios could be what Heavenly Father intends for His children. It was from this moment that I accepted the change.
I remember once telling my mother that I wished my kids would stop growing up, that they’d just stay little forever. She smiled at me sadly and said, “I used to think that way, too, until it happened.” You see, my brother died when he was 7 (I was 13). His was a moving on, just in a different current.
Robert Frost once said, “In three words I can sum up what I’ve learned about life: It goes on.” Thank God that it does. I still have days that I’d love to have my kids little again. Some days I look at photos from years ago and don’t know whether to laugh or cry. But I love the people they’re growing up to be. As much as I miss the delights of the past, I relish in the new enchantments of today. And always, I’m grateful for every extra minute homeschooling has given me to spend with these amazing individuals.
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