Some milestone dates are ones you create and others are given to you. They represent the big changes in your life and, other times, the smaller occasions that become detours in new directions. The older you get, the more dates attach themselves to you. Each one becomes a marker on your life highway.
When I was young, I remember hearing that the best things parents could give their children are roots and wings. Roots were something I took for granted and wings were what I craved.
I grew up in Arizona and left home at 18 for a college 2,000 miles away in a state I’d never visited before. I stepped off the airplane in Illinois with three suitcases on a muggy August day and my life course changed permanently. I never lived in Arizona again other than summer breaks for a couple years. My wings spread and I gave little thought to the roots left behind.
It wasn’t until my father died two years ago that I thought about roots and wings again. As a parent now myself, I was focused on giving my children stability but I hadn’t reflected on the depth of my own roots until I lost a key branch on my family tree.
My father was a man of few words and limited patience. His years in the military instilled the value of hard-work. He left the Air Force when I was still in elementary school and I watched him work most of his days outdoors. I felt like Arizona faded him and I yearned for anything different than the wilting desert heat.
I recently stood at his grave on the two-year anniversary of his passing. My life has changed substantially since then. Losing a parent shakes your ground, no matter your age or relationship with the person. It sobers you to a different layer of adulthood.
For me, it has also brought a dimension that separates me a bit from my husband and children. It makes me all the more aware of the roots I am growing for my boys and also envious of the ignorance my husband has of this loss. I don’t wish for anyone to be in this club, but being in it bears a certain loneliness that you can’t truly articulate. I feel older. Wiser, yes, but definitely aged.
There’s a great line* from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that says, “We seem to have reached the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away.”
A few days after my father’s funeral, I ushered my kids off to the first day of school. I did so again after our recent visit and I saw how back-to-school is another milestone. Life goes forward. Lather, rinse, repeat.
On the second day of school, both kids said, “Can you please not walk us to the bus stop?” Their wings are getting stronger as they are safely surrounded by their roots. Yesterday, I said goodbye to my 12-year-old and I watched him walk down the driveway. Once he got to the end, he started running. For him, life is moving forward and getting there faster is the goal.
My life moved forward as well. In the last two years, my new perspective helped propel me to make big changes. I know for sure that I would not have run two half marathons, quit my job, taken my kids to Europe, or even started this blog.
I often say hello to my dad when I’m running outside, and each time I see a butterfly, I imagine it as a hello back from him. As I was typing the last paragraph above, two butterflies flew across the yard. Might be a sign from above, might just be a good time to end the story.
Either way, it’s only in hindsight that I now see his death not as a loss of roots but a new way in which I was given wings.
*I’m pretty sure my father would be quite pleased that I found a way to quote an Indiana Jones movie.