(This essay is published here with permission from a lovely dove of a lady)
“I’ve been watching a dove’s nest,” she said, her voice softly cooing, “I saw her lay her eggs, I watched them hatch and I watched her when she fed her babies.”
The words “empty nest” is shorthand for the time following the last child leaving home. Words often become so routine that their rich meaning is lost in over use. The dove and her silent observer have a lot in common.
“Then, one day, all her babies were gone,” she begins to cry for herself and the mother dove. Her tears bear her thoughts, “I’m a has been.”
All her chicks are gone, flying on sturdy wings. Their free flight incubated in the warmth of her time, attention, nurture and guidance. Has been? Those words create an image distorted through unconscious use. The truth is that she has been many things, played many roles in her life. She has been a child, a daughter, a wife, a mother of babies, of toddlers, of school age kids and of adolescents. Unlike the implication that being a “has been” means she is without value, the truth is that all she has been honors her worth. Through each transition, she has been graceful in her movement to the next, natural place “to be.”
“She comes back sometimes and just sits in the nest,” her human soul mate says, “Then, she flies away, but she always comes back.”
“The nest is empty,” the grieving mother hears someone say, “And, she just sits there?”
A knowing nod says’ I understand why.’
Silence welcomes gentle sobs that sound like the longing “Who-Who-Whoooo” of a lone dove. A picture album in her head holds page after page of memories: The day they moved in the house; the day she brought her first baby home; the Christmas mornings; tearful nights fretting over a feverish child; stubborn confrontations over independence out of bounds; quiet talks, side by side, on the couch about lost loves, sex, friends, enemies, dreams and fears; day after day of encouraging exploration. Each picture flips toward the moment when each baby flies away.
She lands back in the present, “But, the dove will have more eggs, more babies.” I won’t.” For now, she forgets. Just out of reach of the nest she revisits, is the recollection that she has met God’s call many times by bringing forth new life through the union of her passion and the world’s need (thank you’re. Fred Beakner).
Life changes. Living creation that does not grow and shift with change dies. Often, living means growing around obstacles. A vine will crawl up a wall and around a corner, seeking light and more space in which to grow. No eggs in the nest appears to be a tragedy, unless she remembers.
Viktor Frankl, M.D., Ph D, father of the third Viennese school of psychology, survived four Nazi concentration camps. When his nest was not only empty but shattered, he found ultimate freedom through choosing his attitude toward what ever he faced. Others in the camps would despair and yearn for death. Frankl would challenge them, “You may have no more to expect of life … but life expects more from you.” An empty nest allows room for that which life expects.
The mother dove will have new babies. Her human counterpart will not until grandbabies come to visit. Until then, the attitude she chooses toward her emptiness will determine that which will be brought to life. The end of each phase of existence requires grief for that which is gone. Labor pains precede what life expects next. Releasing the past empties the nest for , as the sometimes overused, unconscious phrase goes, God only knows….