A Parable for Parents
-Written in 2008
It is night and the ocean is calm. You walk along the shoreline holding the most important thing in the world in your arms. You glance out over the dark water that appears even darker than the night sky and admire its vastness. It humbles you to view this expansive mass so much bigger and more powerful then yourself. You contemplate about what happens at its depths far out beyond where the eye can see. It poses no threat, at least not yet.
The sun begins to rise out over the water’s edge. Your stride picks up as you feel excitement within you building about the mission you’ve been handed. The shoreline stretches before you for miles and miles as if it’s never ending. The idea this may be a long journey doesn’t even bother you. Secretly inside yourself, you pray it will be.
You begin to envision all you’ll experience throughout your walk to the end of the shoreline; so many places to visit, so many things to do, so many times to enjoy. The thought this will be anything but a pleasurable endeavor doesn’t even come to mind. It never occurs hard work may be cut out for you ahead. You’re simply blinded by love and the joy that comes with having a new purpose.
You set out on the journey. You begin to take in each new experience that comes to pass along the shoreline. All the while, you protectively keep your most prized possession held closely to you. For right now, you can.
The First Leg of the Journey
There are many firsts experienced during the initial part of the journey. Some of them are such simple acts of achievement. No matter how ordinary the act, it does not diminish how extraordinary each one is to you. You are amazed by each new accomplishment.
You start to pick up things as you travel the shops along the shoreline; such things as a sense of responsibility and of pride. You find you have duties that must be handled and material items that need to be accumulated so the journey is comfortable for you and the treasure in your safekeeping. If you’re lucky, you will avoid picking up feelings of regret; regret over things you might say or do… or even over things you did not say or do.
You find there is so much the shoreline has to offer and sometimes you long to just sit by the seashore and experience nothing but to be with the object of your adoration. You ache for the simplicity to just hold it in your arms and just be with it.
In time, you find you can no longer hold onto everything all at once. You begin to lose your grip on things but you still make every effort to hold onto that most important treasure as tightly as you did the first day you received it. In the back of your mind, you cannot ignore the reality it has aged and needs to be put down. As much as you don’t want to, you loosen your arms and set it on the ground. The possession is your child and the journey is parenthood.
A Step Into the Sea
Although you’ve resolved that it is time to let the child walk on its own, you’re still not willing to let go of it completely. You continue to hold the child’s hand in yours, walking side by side along the seashore instead of carrying it in the safety and protection of your arms. Your chest tightens every time the waves of the great sea creep up and lap at its’ bare, innocent feet.
The child looks up at you and smiles when the water touches its’ skin. It feels a sense of accomplishment at being able to tread the cool, shallow water with its’ own feet for the first time. It longs to play deeper where waves appear to offer even more fun and excitement. The child begins to feel its own sense of wonder and enthusiasm of what the shoreline has to offer. You begin to feel a sense of pride in seeing the delight and desire of your child as they yearn to experience more. You want it for them as well.
You let go of its’ hand and allow it to enter deeper into the water to experience the joys of life. However, you sit at the shoreline and constantly watch to make sure it is safe. When it falls in the water, you run to its’ rescue, pick it up and bring it back to a place of safety. You still long to pick up the child here and there, and sometimes the child even runs willingly into your arms. You sigh with relief when you feel its warmth and love against your chest.
The Paths in the Sand
While the child walks by itself, its’ life is still very much intertwined with yours. It relies on you and needs you and it walks with you often on the shoreline. Every now and then it journeys out into the sea to meet others who will shape its’ life. You hope each one will have a positive influence and will teach it the skills it needs to swim a long way.
You cringe at the thought of the sharks lurking in the deep that are capable of pulling the child under. You pray if any person teaches it wrong instead of right, that the child will learn its’ lesson quickly and will return to the right side of the shoreline.
As the child grows older, it no longer desires to walk the shoreline with you as often. It wants to enter the shops along the shoreline that most captivate its’ interest. It wants to spend time with people it has met along the way. It develops friendships and relationships that become deeper and more intimate than friendships. It slowly draws away from you and begins to make its’ own path along the shoreline. While you walk in the same direction, the distance between your footprints in the sand widens.
Oh the pain of letting go. You realize then, that your most prized possession was never really yours to begin with. It was just a gift given to you by God. You realize your gift back to him was to take care of it the best you could while your paths in the sand were together. Your only mission was to teach it how best to walk the shoreline and how best to swim the waters of life.
The Depth of the Sea
At some point in time, every child reaches the transition to adulthood. Very often this rite of passage comes with a visit to the depths of the sea. We’ve all been there ourselves; maybe not at the turning point of adulthood. I wonder if anyone has ever really been able to avoid going there. When you watch your child walk straight into the sea, you want to yell out “take a deep breath”. In ignorance, they don’t even prepare for what is ahead of them. You’re the only one holding your breath because you know where they are headed.
You stand frozen in time watching them plunge below the surface of the water that is dim and filled with mystery. You are like the moon hovering overhead; a light shining down upon them with constant prayers. For this part of your mission, that is all that you can do.
Every now and again, the child looks up from below the surface and it sees the light shining above the water. When it turns to face the light, you offer it guidance to help it see the way through the murky waters. However, the current of the water and the will of the child to swim its own way causes your words to be muffled. The child isn’t looking for the light to lead the way. It is simply looking at the light to make sure that the moon is still a full one; full of being proud of the child.
This is the most painful part of your own journey along the shoreline… sitting and waiting for what was once your most prized possession to pop its’ head up from beneath the water. You wonder how long it will take and what kind of condition that the child will be in when it resurfaces. You’re overwhelmed with the stark reality that some never actually resurface with the ability to walk the shoreline ever again.
The Air Bubbles
You watch bubbles of air hit the surface of the water and realize each bubble that hits the top is another decision that has been made causing the child to go deeper and deeper down. You worry with the knowledge that air is slowly slipping from their lungs. By now you are screaming to be heard and you’d gladly give them some of the air from your own lungs, but the child is too deep and it can’t hear you at all anymore.
It only sees that what was once was a full, bright moon now appears to be smaller. It turns back to the deep determined to continue its journey, convinced it needs to show you it can make it all the way to the bottom and back again.
What the child doesn’t know is that no matter how many bubbles burst at the top of the water, the child has never lost an ounce of its value to you. In fact, you cherish it even more than the day it was first given to you. It doesn’t matter if it has been a while since you’ve walked the shoreline together. You still walked it and built pathways in the sand together that the sea can never wash away.
What the child doesn’t understand is while fear and disappointment may be felt in seeing each bubble burst, there is no feeling greater in the world then the feeling of love for your own child. Nothing can ever outweigh it or take it away.
You wish the child would realize it doesn’t need to go all the way down for the moonlight to become full and bright again. All it has to do is simply turn around and begin making the choices to swim up. If only the child knew this one simple act would please you beyond measure.
Eventually the child finds itself in total darkness. Your own light begins to dim as you struggle with worry and fear. You long to see the child so much and to know it’s in a place of safety. You wish that the child’s desire to meet you on the shoreline was as strong as yours. You resent that it has a stronger desire to continue this swim.
The child is swimming blindly now. It can’t see which way is up or which way is down. It is too much for you to bear. Just as you did when it was small, you dive headlong into the ocean and swim with all your might to find the child and rescue it. You yell back to call for the search party. Somehow you already sense your powerlessness and you grope for the hands of those that might help you find and rescue your lost child.
The longer you keep reaching for the child in the waters, the more you begin to realize that you cannot pull it back to the surface. You get angry. How could this child have turned away from you so completely? You carried it, protected it, took care of it and loved it more than your own life itself. Eventually you come upon the child in the deep, dark water but it doesn’t recognize you because your face is no longer filled with love. Your face is full of anger over the pain in your heart. There is a strong desire to bring it to the surface and wring its body dry. The child sees you, but because of the rage in your face, it believes you to be a shark and quickly swims away.
You find yourself in total darkness now and alone. You begin to realize if you continue this swim, there is a chance you will never see the light of the seashore yourself. You are faced with the choice to sink lower for another try or to swim up and save yourself. The love you have for the child blinds your better judgment. You decide to take another dive deeper with a last ditch effort to rescue the child.
Although you’re able to find the child, it refuses your assistance. Rational behavior escapes you and you forget this is no longer your possession. You grab hold of its arm and begin to force it to come with you but it won’t budge. You begin to realize you could swim with all your energy and maybe you could eventually bring the child ashore but the desire within the child will always still be there to make this dive alone.
You sadly face the fact you must let go of its’ hand once and for all and let it makes its own way to the safety of the shore. You realize you can’t save it from itself and doing so would only prevent or prolong the child from learning the skills it needs to make its’ own way to the end of the shoreline. It dawns on you… one day it will be carrying its own prized possession and it will need these skills in order to take care of it.
Reluctantly, you decide to stop making your own air bubbles and you let the child’s hand slip from yours. You have no will to swim. You wish the sea would swallow you up. Slowly you float to the surface. God carries you there.
Washed Upon the Shore
Your lifeless body washes upon the shore. You look down the length of the seashore and you see that you have much farther to go. You look back at the sea and a tear drops from your eye because the child’s body is not lying next to you. You look up and see the sun shining brightly in the sky. You want to bury your head in the sand. You’re not ready for the brightness. You’ve lost all enthusiasm to walk the seashore if means leaving the child behind. Your limbs are tired from swimming and trying to rescue the child. You close your eyes and rest.
You’re awakened by a nudge. You wipe the sand from your eyes. You see your family and friends standing around you with their hands held out to you. You ask if it is all just a dream. They stand and shake their heads partly because they’re confirming your worst fears and partly because of their own sense of despair for the child.
They pick you up and tell you that you must continue to walk with them and that you need to leave the child behind. They assure you that someday, hopefully soon, you will be walking on the shoreline and will see another lifeless body lying in the sand; the body of the child that has returned from the deep. They tell you that when it wipes the sand from its eyes, it will see everyone standing around it with smiles beaming from to ear to ear and it will be looking for your face to be in that circle.
You surrender with hopeful realization that what they are saying is true and you pick yourself up off the sandy beach. You continue your walk to the end of the shore, but you never stop looking at the sea. You watch and you wait.
Written through inspiration for a child I’ve mothered the longest… my Blossom.