Early this morning, I kissed my 16-year-old son Lachlan goodbye. He has left our nest; he has spread his wings. Despite steeling myself for months for this moment, it didn't lessen the wrench on my heart as I waved him goodbye.
I am not worried about Lachlan moving to the other side of the world to pursue his passion and dream of one day playing Division One college basketball. I don't fret for a moment that he will make foolish choices. I don't fear for his safety (well, not much). I'm not even worried that he won't stay in touch as much as I'd like. He is a warm, wise and thoughtful young man, and I could not have greater faith in him.
I'm just sad that he will no longer be part of my daily life, of our family's daily life. Sad that I won't see him every morning at breakfast. Sad that he will no longer walk in the door after school each day to tell me about the funny thing that happened in his Chinese class with his favorite teacher, Miss Ting. Sad that I will no longer hear him shooting countless hoops with his brothers outside my office door (as distracting as it often was.) Sad too that he will no longer sit around our dinner table at night chiding his three siblings for their bad jokes, contributing his own. I will even miss him not appreciating my singing!
As I type this now I am crying. I'm also sitting on a plane flying to New Zealand to speak at a leadership conference on building a 'Culture of courage.' Ironic, really. Because while I've never led an organization, it would seem my husband and I have done a particularly good job at creating a culture of courage in our own home. Too good, some might argue. But as my cousin Joan said when Lachlan first applied to this high school in Virginia and I had my very first round of tears, "Did you really think your kids weren't listening to you, Margie? He's just doing what you encourage everyone to do -- to aim high, dream big, take a risk and be courageous."
Dammit! Maybe it's just my pleas to clean their rooms my kids tune out to!
Of course I am immensely proud of Lachlan's courage. Just as I am his strong character and gentle kindness. But that doesn't mean I'm not sad, really really sad, to see him go.
Which is why I've been introduced to a new brand of bravery; a new dimension of courage -- the courage of a parent to encourage their children to pursue their dreams, despite the risk that they may not achieve them, and in spreading their wings, even when it means moving far (in my case 10,000 miles-far) from home. At the core of what I've learnt from Lachlan leaving home is that there are many different ways we are called to be courageous throughout the course of our lives. Sometimes we are called to step outside our comfort zone -- to make a change or take a chance. Other times we're called to get fully present to our sadness and all that tugs on our hearts. A lot tugged on this mother's heart today.
There will inevitably be days throughout life when we have to be braver than we want to be. Today, that has meant releasing my grip from the hardest hug of my life and waving Lachlan goodbye. It has also meant letting the tears I've tried to fight back for days finally flood down and getting fully present to the deep sense of loss that has been so real and raw for me all week.
As I have written before, after my brother Frank became a paraplegic and again after my brother Peter died, our sadness points us to what matters most to us in life. It's the emotion also that unlocks the door to joy. So while I would like to keep all four of my children close by me forever, because I want them to live their lives purposefully, passionately and bravely, that will require practicing a bit of bravery myself. Living bravely isn't about living small or safe. Nor is it about keeping things just as they are for as long as we can. It's about living bravely, loving bravely and daring bravely. And it's about trusting that not only are we stronger than any heartache or hurdle we ever face, but that every single one of them can serve some purpose far greater than ourselves.
As my plane begins its descent into Queenstown and the magnificent snow-capped peaks of New Zealand's south island greet me out the window, I have a profound knowing that Lachlan, like all of us, has been put on earth for a unique and important purpose. That thought not only gives me great comfort, it refuels my courage.
Life is good. Love is good. Sadness is good too. Just so long as we don't dwell in it so long that it defines us. Today I'm going to give myself permission to feel it fully. Then tomorrow, I'm going to get up on stage and share my thoughts on building a culture of courage; emboldening people to be brave, to think bigger and to take risks. I have the perfect personal story to open with.