Coffee at the beach holds a different meaning for me today. Usually I’m more concerned about the coffee than the beach. Not today. Today, the beach is more than a location. It’s a metaphor. Gazing at the footprints disappearing in the rising tide, I think that I am able to understand a comforting lesson about our recent life changes. We just returned last night from taking my daughter to college in the high desert of Boise, Idaho. The trip lived up to the destination. It was high and it was 100 degrees. Mountains and sage brush are the realities there. Personally I prefer mountains and beach front, but that’s me. It wasn’t just a change of scenery for us though. It was the beginning of something totally different and totally inevitable.
For my daughter, it’s a new life, with new friends, in a new room, with endless opportunities. For my wife and I, it’s a new life, with each other, with empty rooms, and a sense of loss and “where did it all go?”. We’ve already gone through this drill once with my son and that was difficult enough with all of its own challenges and sadness. I thought that this time would be different, with different meaning “easier”. It was different, but not in the way I had hoped and assumed. So in the midst of change, my wife and I seek what we all seek in times like these. We seek comfort and clarity. I’m not sure about the comfort, except that it only comes with time. Clarity, I may have glimpsed in the footprints.
Walking down the beach, everyone leaves footprints behind them. The universal truth is that, over time, through wind and waves, the footprints begin to fade until they are merely a faint imprint. Further along, over time, they disappear altogether. My daughter, like my son before her, has left distinct footprints of her life as she has passed through. I was putting some things in her room last night and it occurred to me that her room still had her mark. It had her colors, her curtains, her imprint left behind, but without the personality behind it all. A wave has washed over and the imprint had already begun to fade.
Like I said, we’ve gone through this all before. It took a week or so before I could go into my son’s room, as the footprints were so fresh. It also may have been because the trash was so deep, who knows really. Anyway, as he’s continued on through schooling and jobs and now marriage, the original prints left behind have faded significantly. It could all be so depressing, except for the insight I found this morning in the gentle waves. I can choose to stand here feeling all lost and nostalgic while the old ones fade to something quite indistinguishable, or I can pursue the one making the footprints. Sure the old ones are fading in the surf, but as long as the one making them keeps walking, new ones appear with every step. I don’t need the same old footprints when I can follow along with new ones into a new place for all of us. We’ve all followed my son joyfully through all that has come since his initial leaving home and the paths that he has walked. He’s still central in our lives. It’s different to be sure, but it’s clear. Now it’s her turn.
It is still painful to watch them fade. Tears will come easily for awhile, like right now. I don’t imagine that it’s much less painful to be the print that’s fading as life’s surf is washing over. I look forward though to her new paths and the new prints. That is, as long as it doesn’t include boys and marriage anytime soon. I’m thinking of buying a gun, just to have something to be cleaning when the first one comes calling. For now, the tide is coming in so I’d better get walking.