To learn the song in our hearts

To learn the song in our hearts

Yesterday I drove my son to his last day at the wilderness school he's attended for the last five years. A young man on the cusp of 15, his time at this school - beloved to me - is ending.

Over the years, there are so many times that I drove this 90 minute round trip to the other side of town, tired, irritable at the traffic, achy from the car ride, groggy in the late afternoon malaise, and counting down the classes, thinking, “How many more times do I have to drive this?”

And yet yesterday I savored each stop light, each familiar tree and meadow and turn in the road. How endings make the mundane precious, and particular.

The night before I'd wrapped a gift for my son's teacher – a hand tied, leather bound journal – in white paper and brown twine. My son and I penned a thank you – he begrudgingly; he is 14 and susceptible to a teenager's moods – stamped it in wax (my son loved that part – a chance to play with fire) and tucked it into the twine.

When I handed the package to his teacher under the canopy of trees, his eyes lit up: “I wrap packages with white paper and twine, too! It's like you saw right into my heart!”

He unwrapped the gift, eyes still alight: “I had a journal just like this when I was young! I'm going to coat the leather in beeswax to waterproof it and use it as my nature journal.”

It was almost too much to bear: to take in his gratitude, to sit in the sweetness of this moment as our hearts connected, to feel the tender goodbye of our family's connection to the school in our daily lives, and to feel the beauty of the exchange of gifts between us – his gift of presence to our family, and my gift to him.

Norwegian author Arne Garborg once said, “"To love someone is to learn the song in their heart and sing it to them when they have forgotten.”

This quote came to mind in our exchange. I don't know if this man has forgotten the song of his heart, but I do know the mystery we both felt as we beheld his journal together: what my heart told me to give him and what his heart yearned to receive.

I also know that I've forgotten the song of my heart many times this year. And this man, in our conversations as I dropped off and picked up my son, sang it back to me.

Elder and therapist Francis Weller says our task as adults is to hold both grief and gratitude in our hands, and to be stretched wide to encompass more and more of each.

I felt both that day: it was hard to know where one ended and the other began.

Today it is raining, steadily and gently, and in the rain, I feel the imprint left by my son's teacher, the imprint of our good bye, and the imprint of this school in my family's life. My body feels like the soft earth, gathering the moisture that feeds life, a pool of unshed tears in this tender ache that thrums throughout my body.

In the twilight tonight, I may take the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood pond and shed those tears in the rain.

Like many sensitive ones, for years I've carried several layers of social anxiety in my nervous system, a crust layered over the core of myself. After being ill this past year with covid, auto immune flare ups, and a chronic bout of mono, a new fatigue has joined hands with the anxiety.

It's easy for me to tuck into my shell with my animals, books, and poems and shy away from people.

I imagine we all have these turtle instincts, and our own version of a turtle shell.

Isn't it something how what we long for the most – to be seen and to see, to be known and to know – can also bring the most terror?

It takes courage, patience, and trust to peek out of these shells, to allow ourselves to be seen by others, and in turn, to see them.

I am grateful for the people in my life who give me the honor of seeing them, and who see me. And I'm grateful for the interactions, the rhythms of daily life – school drop offs and pick ups, mail collecting as a neighbor arrives home from work, the post office and grocery store lines – where seeing unfolds.

Bless the connections and intertwining that coax us, one turtle step at a time, out of our shells.

Bless the many opportunities to see into each other’s hearts.

Bless the traffic and the teachers. Bless the rain.

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