Back to slicing on Tuesdays! It’s been a month or so since I last wrote a slice of life on Tuesday – time I’ve spent with my family, holidaying here and there, reading the stack of books I’ve gathered, keeping my writer’s notebook going, dreaming up a “new and improved” school year…and just being. Once the school year begins, that seems like something so very hard to do! School opens in a week, and I stepped into my room yesterday…but that is next week’s slice. Today’s slice is one that has been itching itself to be written about, so here goes:
On July 27th. our daughter boarded a flight to Cairo, Egypt. There, she would be continuing her studies in mastering the Arabic language for some weeks before heading to Beirut where she would be conducting research for her dissertation. Then it was on to London to finish the academic year. We may possibly see her for a few days before London, but that was still uncertain. In other words, Elizabeth was off and it would be quite some time before we would see her again.
In the weeks leading up to her departure, we’d spent time in Manhattan museuming and having more wine and iced coffee than is perhaps wise on random weekday afternoons. Every time I headed back to New Jersey after one of these excursions, I’d think to myself, “Now THAT was a great day! what a great kiddo we have…I am going to miss her.” As July 27th. neared, we moved her things out of her grad school digs and back home. It was strange to see all the “Elizabeth things” back in our house again – her posters, framed pictures of undergrad days, collection of funky earrings and necklaces. For a few days we drank morning coffee on the porch and shopped for long sleeved shirts and modest skirts – her retro outfits and New York City girl clothes would have to be left behind for her months in the Middle East. As we stored away her dresses and jeans and sweaters and t-shirts, we talked about where she’d bought this or that – the clothes were like a road map of the paths she’d traveled: a t-shirt from this concert, a skirt from that flea market, a coat from some vintage store in a part of the East Village I’d never even heard of. This kid had been to some interesting places.
Even though we are used to Elizabeth traveling (she’d flown all by herself to visit my parents in London at eight, after all), this trip seemed different. I could not put my finger on the reasons why I felt it was so, but I did. This trip seemed like something new. The last time she had been in the Middle East, she had been part of an Arab/Israeli activist group – trying to document and publicize the effects of the forced Palestinian evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and other sites. She’d been detained and tear gassed, and she’d come down with the swine flu … and we spent the whole time she was away worried and scared. But, she came back and life resumed. Why was this trip so different?
July 27th. was a beastly hot day in New Jersey – but the temperature in Cairo had hovered at 103 for the past few weeks, so we counted our blessings and did the last of our running around in the 90 degree heat (enjoying the conditioning available everywhere). At last, it was time to get to the airport. Elizabeth was focused and ready. Anything I thought to remind her about, she’d already done or had in hand. As we made our way through Jersey traffic, never a pleasant endeavor, I kept one discreet eye on the rear view mirror – glancing at Elizabeth now and then. Already, she seemed far away – clearly, she was thinking about the journey, the weeks of work and study and travel and experiences that lay ahead. Already, I felt, she had left us. The hustle and bustle of the airport felt weird to me; I usually love people watching – tearful goodbyes and cheerful reunions, bored passengers passing the time in various ways are usually endlessly fascinating to me…but not this time. This time there was just one traveler who had my complete attention.
As we neared the security checkpoint, Elizabeth was all business. All of a sudden, there was a crush of people who needed to get the attention of one very harried looking young lady. New Yorker that she is, Elizabeth managed to get ahead of everyone and make her way through. We waited until we could no longer see her – there was one last wave goodbye before she passed through the metal detectors and then on to her gate. I felt rather foolish standing there, hoping to catch another glimpse of her blue dress. My husband was waiting – patient about my reluctance to leave just quite yet, but impatient to beat the rush hour traffic home. So, we turned and left.
|Elizabeth, checking in…
|Waiting for security clearance
Weeks and many adventures later, we received this picture from Elizabeth. She had been to visit the oasis at Siwah and had loved being in the desert. She told us about the almost perpendicular road up the sand dunes in an SUV going at breakneck speed to maintain traction. She told us about seeing starry night skies that were unbelievable beautiful. And she talked about something her father had said about how he felt at one with nature in the mountain lakes of his beloved Adirondacks. In the vastness of the desert, Elizabeth said, you feel instead your singularity – your individuality. It occurred to me then that this is what I felt was different about this trip Elizabeth had taken. The “something new” that I had been feeling was, really, the knowledge that my kid was now an adult – she was forging ahead on a path all her own, most of which I would never fully understand or experience myself. Elizabeth had come into her singularity.
|Elizabeth, Siwah Oasis, Egypt.
As I finish up this rather lengthy slice, I remember this poem…which I think I now (finally) get.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.