Leaving the Nest


photos by Jack Oates

My father recently photographed a family of robins in their nest—from the early days of tending the eggs, to indefatigably feeding the demanding chicks, to the chicks taking flight, and one final farewell (and snack) from the edge of the yard. Dad almost captured the moment when the last chick left, but the movement of his camera so startled the chick that she leapt off the nest, careened through the air and crash-landed on the opposite side of the yard.

In two days I take my second (and last) child to her freshman year in college (hopefully without the crash landing): the proverbial “empty nest”. I have the usual mix of emotions: relief (they launched!), fear (they launched!), liberty (a quiet house!), loneliness (a quiet house!), excitement (what’s next?), unmoored (what’s next?). As I enjoy Dad’s pictures, I’ve contemplated the empty nest—as in completely empty. You don’t see Mama and Papa Robin moping forlornly in the nest (or throwing a block party for that matter). They are gone, too. Life has it’s seasons, and this one has passed. Time to let go--leave the nest. And yet....

Whether one has children or not, there comes a point in middle age when you think: Is this all? What do I want to leave behind? Do I have unfulfilled dreams and how will I honor that impulse? Do I need to learn to accept life’s disappointments or risk a new challenge (even if I fail)? And the philosophers among us keep asking: Why am I here? What is all this living for? What does anything really mean in the face of decay and mortality?

I am grateful to have recently been introduced to a wonderful new podcast created by Mark Peres titled (aptly) “On Life and Meaning”.  He interviews people from disparate professions and cultures about what gives their life meaning—from the famous (Peter Reinhart, baker, writer, educator) to the not-so-famous (me). I reflect on my life and what propelled me into songwriting and performing again. I also play the two songs I dedicated to my children: “When Dragons Were Real” (coming out on cd soon!) and “Edge of a Hurricane”. Having children reconnected me to my own childhood—that sense of wonder, joy, and unbridled hope and love—only to lose it all over again when my children grew up. And now the specter of time and frailty looms, and the world seeming even darker and hate-filled than ever before. At times like these it seems even more important not to let go, but to hold on to that wonder and hope and love that still lives within us all.