The proud grandparents watch as their blue-robed grandson, tanned, tall, quietly confident, delivers his valedictory remarks. Images float up. Stunned toddler sharing his tired mother’s lap with his newborn brother, brothers playing basketball in the driveway, driving the family car home from dinner out for the first time, size 13 shoes piled in the mudroom.
A friend’s son also graduated. I’m sad, she says. He’ll be 10 hours away next year. I have to keep myself busy. Another friend’s grandmother died. The funeral was in my home town. Seeing all the people I haven’t seen for so long, she tells me with tears in her eyes, I realized my life is half over.
My grandson is not yet one. He is developing before my eyes. Now he can clap. He can do the raspberry. His father swears he can sing. The next time I see him, he may be walking. A friend says to me, when my little boy leaves the room and comes back, he is already different. Stop, I want to say, don’t change!
I am reminded of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins that addresses a young girl, Margaret, who is crying because the beautiful yellow leaves of autumn are falling. It ends with the lines:
It does not matter what you are talking about–leaves, grandchildren, graduation, life half over, the sorrow evoked is from the same source: as “time marches on,” our hearts know that all life, but more to the point, our life is finite. As we experience these landmarks, we rejoice but sometimes we cry because we are mourning that the milestone marks life moving toward its and our inevitable end.