04/01/2014 06:05 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2014

A Mother's Advice to Her Graduating Son

Amy Roost

I received a text from my son in the middle of the night. It read, "I love you." My first thought was to text back are you okay?!, but then I remembered he's on mile 26 of a marathon. He's delusional.

In a week, he'll take his GRE. In two weeks, he'll turn 22. In four weeks, he'll ceremoniously drop the rough draft of his senior thesis (entitled "Gravitron in Type 2a String Theory Quantum Chromodynamics") into a bonfire, then hand the final draft to his advisor. In five weeks, he'll take finals. In six weeks, he'll walk across a stage and be handed a diploma. In eight months, he'll begin a PhD program in theoretical physics.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. If you're reading this, son, do as I say, not as I do. Proceed one equation at a time. Take in each moment as it comes appreciating it all the more in light of the moments you rode in on.


When you were nine weeks a fetus, I rejoiced to hear your heartbeat. When you were 11 weeks a fetus, I sobbed when that heartbeat went radio silent and an ultrasound showed no sign of your embryonic self. The obstetrician offered his condolences. He advised me to go home and have a margarita and if I didn't miscarry you over the weekend, to come back on Monday for a dilation and curettage.

I didn't follow any of his advice. Instead, I held on. Correction: We held on. Two weeks passed before my next appointment. The ultrasound technician and I both took deep breaths as she placed the cold doppler wand on my belly. She waved it back and forth searching and searching, then, magically, there you were, heartbeat and all.

It wasn't until you were born that we discovered what that early fuss had been about. You had birth defects, several of them. A nine-hour surgery followed by three weeks in intensive care addressed the most serious one. There was another surgery 9 months later, followed by another and another and another. There were the hospitalizations for one pneumonia after another; and a pulmonary embolism; the trips to the ER for anaphylaxis. The calm. And then the storm -- two brain surgeries, a cranio-cervical fusion, traction, pain, recovery. Of course you remember all of this better than I do.

But do you remember that warm summer day at Trap Pond in Delaware? You were 17 and had recently shed your body cast. We woke early and set off for a morning of canoeing. As we glided across the glassy surface of the pond and wended our way through clumps of cypress trees, we saw a Great Blue Heron balanced on one leg, a family of turtles sunning themselves on a rock and a bald eagle soaring overhead. It felt as if we were looking at the world through 3D glasses, so intense was the life force around us.

Do you remember how on our drive back to the beach house that day, we blasted the car stereo while listening to our favorite Mumford and Sons CD? How when the song "Timshel" played, there was that one lyric -- death is at your doorstep and it will steal your innocence but it will not steal your substance. You are not alone in this. How when we heard this, we cast each other knowing glances. And how I then started to cry. And you did too. And you reached over with your left hand and placed it atop my right hand. And you left it there while we drove. Not speaking a word. Do you remember that day?

I do. Every moment.


Now might be a good time to reread the poem "Sonnets to Orpheus Part Two, XII". It was one of those--along with the Mary Oliver and Wallace Stevens' poems--I gave to you when you graduated high school. Do you remember Rilke's advice?

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
often finishes at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming
a laurel, dares you to become wind.

In other words, when you finish this marathon, you will end at the starting line again. Therefore, it is pointless to evade the full intensity of this process you're going through. Embrace it. Dance with it along the time-space continuum you know so well.

'Enough with the poetry and the spiritual', you say?. Okay. Then let me offer you something tangible: It's the middle of the night. You're there. I'm here. At this moment, your life is gritty. And you're feeling alone and think no one gets what it is you're going through.

So, do me this favor: Place your hand over your heart. Can you feel that? Me too. In this moment of self doubt and exhaustion, know that I am with you. You are not alone in this.