With those four simple words, we watched our last-born son exit our home to forge a new life for himself as a married man. The words were whispered to him by his father, who was failing utterly and completely in his efforts to appear stoic.
Tears were shed, but not of sadness. We were happy for him. He had chosen well and we had confidence that his decision was well thought out and planned with the precision of an architect designing his family’s first home. No. Our tears (Yes, I shed a few myself) were of joy, interspersed with a well-rounded measure of sentimentality.
As the boy he was to us exited our door in the form of the man he had somehow become while we were preoccupied with other matters, a vivid vignette played out in our minds. There was the mental image of a ten-year-old child sprawled out on a blanket in our field, his dog at his side. When asked what he was doing out there, he replied, “Listening.”
We visualize a young boy sitting high in a redbud tree, binoculars in hand, watching a circling white-tailed hawk, or the pileated woodpecker that lived in our backyard.
Now, as he dances with his lovely bride of two hours, his mother and father remember the child of four who stood on the tops of his ‘Uncle Ray’s’ feet, pestering him for just one more ride across the carpet of our rented vacation condo.
We remember the boy who reached down to touch the slick, smooth skin of the dolphin who followed our boat as it made its way across the channel to Shell Island.
We see the young man who defended his home against an invading raccoon who, clever critter that it was, slipped in through our fireplace with the stealth of Cyrus the Great entering the gates of Babylon and, like E.T, concealed itself in plain sight on a wall shelf lined with stuffed animals!
We know that child is gone—he has been for a very long time. We just missed the signs, or perhaps were simply in denial. And while we are home waxing sentimental over the loss of our baby and, maybe (if we’re being truly honest) over our own vanishing youth, our son now boasts of a beautiful young wife who has become the center of his universe, and he looks forward, as is his right, to a life brimming with empty pages just waiting to be filled.
And that is as it should be.