It was the very last moment of the last seconds of a month of living nearby our Granddaughters, Morgan (9) and Leah (5) their Mom and Dad. We live in Nashville, they in Chicago. Though we see each other often, typically, the visits are always a short two or three days.
The idea of staying for a month had developed after I had heard of a man who had purchased a home next door to each of his three children who live in NYC; Portland, Oregon; and Dallas, Texas. He spends each year moving from home to home, staying for a month or two or three, visiting with his three families. Lacking the ability to do that, we settled on a month.
And what a month it was. Jet ski rides, cookouts, trips to the zoo, the library, walking them to their first days of school, over nighters at our place, Cubs games, mornings, afternoons and evenings "just hanging", picnics, playing soccer, restaurants, ice cream cones, candy apples, cheese plates, trips to "American Girl", the Field Museum, we did it all.
The end of our time with them coincided with their annual neighborhood block party. Scores of children, dozens of moms and dads, aunts and uncles, Grandpas, Grandmas and assorted other hanger-on-ers...
A beautiful, mild, drizzly late summer day, hinting of an early fall.
A morning full of anticipatory excitement. Everyone waiting for the placement of barriers blocking the street from normal traffic announcing the official opening of the party. Special food and treats began appearing, tents popping up in front of houses up and down the street. Bicycles lined up to be decorated, faces to be painted, actually being able to run up and down the street without being yelled at. A candy stuffed piñata appeared willing to be sacrificed. Yells, screams, shouts of delight, mixed in with an occasional painful wailing created by a fall, skinned knee, an unfair or unkind exchange and I’m just talking about the adults.
As the evening's inevitable darkness crept over the gathering it was, too soon, time for us to leave. Leave not just to go back to our rented home, as we had for the previous month, but home. Back to Nashville.
As we said our goodbyes, our oldest asked if she could ride her bicycle beside us as we walked back to our car which had been parked a block away.
I was a little surprised by her request because she had been very involved playing with all of her neighbor friends. To break away to walk her grandparents back to their car? But she did.
I'd guess we walked, and she rode, about as slowly as it is possible to maintain our respective balances. No one wanted to experience the end of this time together. When we reached the end of the block, Morgan announced "this is as far as I am allowed to go, I'll have to say goodbye now." We stopped, exchanged hugs, murmured our unconditional love of each other, stepped back and then it happened. My eyes locked on hers and for a moment, as we looked at each other I was transported back. Back 150? 250? 500? Years.
What I saw was the young and old, standing on a dock somewhere saying goodbye. Goodbyes involving moving on to new lands and new adventures, not wanting to, really, but having no choice. Being chased out of our ancient’s homelands by war, force, politics, or starvation as my ancestors (and Morgan's) were.
Our ancient eyes had witnessed this very "saying goodbye" moment before. We both recognized it. Young ones leaving the old ones or vice versa. Knowing that they wouldn't see each other, ever again. It seemed that we carried, in that moment, the ancient pain of those ripped and torn from such forced partings.
We went our separate ways, and I walked on, and looked back, we waved and once again, I saw the ancient ones who live within each of us waving, just one more time also. The ancient ones that are a part of each of our histories, of our literal DNA, experts suggest.
How do I know this 9 year-old experienced all of this also? Because her last words were, "But WE get to see each other again, right?" With that emphasis on the WE. Being able to do what our ancestors couldn't.
I think about this now at this time in our world’s history where one of the largest migrations of human beings in the last 100 years is taking place. The staggering number of refugees, saying those “goodbye’s” with little hope that they will even survive, let alone see each other again. Leaving the land of their birth not just for better opportunities. But to try to survive. My Irish ancestors came here because 500,000 of their countrymen (of a total population of 2.5 million) were dying during the potato famine.
I didn't tell her that "no, actually, we'll never see each other again like this”. I didn’t say, “even if we are granted the opportunity to get together again (and there is a chance we won't), we will be slightly different people". She'll understand all that eventually. Once again I was reminded of the wonderful gift of presence to be able to see, feel and experience those ancient eyes.
I've been called morbid by some because I make a pretty big deal of partings. Of trying to make sure I have left nothing unsaid to a loved one, just in case.....I like living knowing I won't be adding to my already long enough "I wish I woulda (or wouldn’ta)" list.