Another sibling's home, another school day, sleepy child voices rising slowly in response to mom's gentle wake up call. What a whirlwind week this has been, and it's not over yet.
It was a drenched walk in monsoon-like weather. My sister's yard is usually not waterfront property, but today was an exception.
My sense of the empty nest life at this early stage is surely somewhat overblown. This has been a busy month since T left home. The footloose freedom and vagabond living have been intoxicating; my head is abuzz with captured experiences, new connections, old re-connections. It would likely get old for me after a while, oft-time introvert that I am, but for now life is rich and full and overflowing.
On Monday I was on top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine's back country. Last night I was in my sparkliest black dress at a dinner in New York City's Yacht Club on West 44th St. In between, I have had a little window into the lives of my two youngest siblings and their daily, child-centered routines.
I have not felt myself to be much of a party gal for years, but this was a very special event last night.
My father is the co-founder of The Wild Center - Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks in Tupper Lake, NY. After the last 15 years or so of tenacious advocacy and enthusiasm, and the rising up and blooming of this spectacular institution, my dad has stepped down from his leadership role. This was a special fundraising dinner to pay tribute to all that he has done.
So many of my favorite people filled the room - siblings, in-laws, childhood best friend cousins, my mother's closest friends from many decades, my father's college classmates and dearest friends, and even a college friend of mine who connects me to my own best friends from college days. I haven't felt so animated in a party setting for years - flitting from table to table, wanting to spend real time with everyone, singing, laughing, hugging. And everyone was there for the very best reasons. I felt lit up.
I wasn't alone. Preceding her exit for the train station, my Mom whisked my cousin out of his seat to the tune of a rousing Cole Porter tune on the piano, and danced and twirled with him around the tables. It was the only dance of the night, but left a sparkling impression on the whole room.
Dad was deeply moved, but true to form, was not speechless. He spoke graciously, with humor and humility and enormous gratitude. We all felt pretty proud of our old dad. What a wonderful thing to be in a room filled with people whose lives have been touched by you in some positive way - and who have touched your own life in positive ways. Terrific celebration.
Then - the piano man wound up the rousing sing-a-long; the tables slowly cleared; in the glorious woodsy centerpieces the votive candles hanging suspended from twisting bittersweet branches began to flicker out. Time to go.
Strangely, my father was off to Grand Central Station by himself. A quiet exit. The rest of his group had called it a night earlier, so he was headed for a late train to ride home alone.
How poignant to me... and perhaps comfortingly realistic. The shower of accolades was completed, and it all came with the utmost sincerity and genuine love. Nevertheless, we are all, each one of us, islands of our own in the end. Accolades cannot be the only thing that sustains us, and they are by no means the only thing that sustains my father.
He gets down to business because it's what he does. It is what he loves. And he loves the people that share the journey - but he is perfectly capable of carrying on the journey on his own as well. It is as it should be - as it must be.
As big as the world may make us in a moment, each of us really amounts to who we are when we are on our own.
My sister and I happened to have a train to catch at the same hour as Dad. We walked him to his platform and said good night, and watched him go off on his own, this solo traveler, this weary but fulfilled, hard working, devoted, loving man, who really amounts to an awful lot wherever he stands - in front of a crowd, or alone on a train platform.