September 11, 1998

Leaving Home

The summer is almost over, but it has been a glorious adventure for my wife and me. We had a preview of the future as we practiced being empty-nesters. We took off on day trips without worrying about any child’s schedule. Meal times were no longer written in stone and we ate according to our clocks of the day. We breathed in deeply the silence and the solitude.

We were not alone all summer. Our son Taylor, age 16, was off working in New Hampshire for the entire summer, but our daughter, Meghan, age 20, was home for most of it, working and attending school. She left for New Hampshire for the last three weeks of the summer, and then we were alone.

I was excited when it came time for them to return on Labor Day. Sure, the silence, freedom and flexibility were wonderful, but something was missing from our home. I missed the loving presence of our children. They fill up our house to overflowing, with sounds, voices and emotions pouring out over the eaves. But they are our sounds, our voices and our emotions.

And now I am feeling a loss. This weekend my daughter will be moving into her first apartment in preparation for the new school year. It was bad enough when we sent her off to begin college, but college dorms were always a temporary, nine month arrangement. She would always have to come home at the end. But the apartment is a twelve month lease which will be followed by other leases and then some day mortgage payments. My daughter is leaving home for good.

The truth is that she left home three years ago when she went to work in New Hampshire for the summer after her senior year in high school. She has not lived here regularly ever since. But those events did not grab me. I did not want to believe that she was gone. To me she was always visiting some place else. Her home was always with us.

Now she will have her own home. Of course, this is exactly what she is supposed to be doing. Her future is not under my roof, nor should it be. But I feel the loss. This child who was laid in my arms twenty years ago in a hospital corridor now will walk proudly on her own.

I grab her arm and tell her only half-jokingly not to leave. She says she will be back but what she refers to as “back” and what I mean as “back” are not the same thing. She will not be one of those “boomerang kids” who leave but always move back home. She will be back to visit. She likes to visit her old parents and she always brings joy into the house with her. But visiting here and living here are not the same thing.

Change is upon us. Change is good, or so I have read. I am learning a new way of loving a child while saying hello and good-bye. They did not tell us about good-byes at childbirth classes. But I have learned that good-byes are just preparations for hellos. I will practice. I will learn. And I will love.

September 4, 1998

The Leak

A recent book about life on the PGA golf tour is titled “A Good Walk Spoiled.” My recent day could be called “A Good Day Spoiled.” It started out innocently enough and then it erupted.

My wife and I were driving to the neighboring city of Gloucester to have lunch. The subject of “the leak” came up. I do not blame this on my wife. I probably brought it up. Our sunporch has had a small leak since we bought the house a year ago. It has not been bothersome until recently when we installed a new carpet. Now it must be fixed.

Now you need to understand that I am not a handyman. There are few things around the house that I am qualified to do. Moving dirt is one. Putting it back is another. So any kind of projects fill me with dread. I know enough not to take them on. You will not find many unfinished projects around my house. I just never start them.

Fixing a small leak sounds easy enough. I bought some caulking and I think that I know the source. But the source is hidden by an awning which covers panels of glass in the ceiling of the sunporch. The awning must be removed and replaced, a job normally done by the awning company and a job which I cannot do alone.

We are driving along and I can feel my stomach knot up as the subject of the leak comes up. Most guys would be able to do this job alone. I know they could. And I feel bad that I cannot. I feel really bad. I continue driving, but now in silence. I have ended the conversation and turned onto the highway, but I did not want to get onto the highway. I will get off at the next exit. I am thinking about the leak. I miss the next exit. I wrestle the car off onto an alternate route and we drive on, still silent. My hands are squeezing the steering wheel into a different shape. I stare straight ahead with blinders on blocking out my wife sitting next to me and the rest of the world.

We reach our destination and my wife is the first to speak. Thank goodness, because I am locked into silence.

“What’s the matter?”

“The leak, I can’t stand thinking about the leak.”

We talk about it and she offers to help by making some phone calls to find someone to fix it. The anger erupting inside me is diffused. We move ahead together.

But this whole thing is really not about the leak. It is about the general level of stress in my life. I have a lot of new, big things about to start in my life and I am anxious about them. A few months ago conversation about the leak would not have bothered me at all. Today, it is a convenient flashpoint for my fear.

This is an old pattern which drains energy from my life. I can feel the energy being sucked out by fear. I used to lose days, weeks and months to this pattern, but now I recognize it earlier. I can counteract it. After our little trip I needed a nap. That is my reaction to stress. Others eat or drink, I sleep. But after the nap I went to an energy source, running. A good run restored the energy and got me moving again in my life.

So I am learning to live with my fears. We all have fear, but often it operates unseen below the surface. Recognizing the fear is the first step. But then I have to deal with it. I cannot think or reason away my fear, now matter how irrational it is. My taking action in spite of my fear is what diminishes it. I need to fight to continue to do what needs to be done. I need to fight to stay present and not tune out everyone and everything around me. I need to take proactive steps in the struggle. "A Good Day Spoiled" becomes "A Few Hours Spoiled." Progress.

September 2, 1998


I need to tell you that I cannot write an issue of ZIGZAGS this week. I simply do not have time. You must understand that I want to write it. I want to do a lot of things. I want to eat, sleep, read the paper, watch TV, skim a novel, take a walk, talk to my family, be a friend – and that is just the beginning of the list. But I do not have time. I am busy studying theology.

I started divinity school last week and one of my courses is Systematic Theology. I love it. No, that is not enough – I really love it. How about I really, really, really love it. I am so excited about it that it has taken over my life, with my permission of course. If only I could read theology twenty four hours a day – that is my goal. All of the other stuff of life is stopping me and I resent that.

I have figured out how to read theology while eating, but I am still working on the sleeping time. There should be a way to make sleeping more active so that I could synthesize the study of theology with it. I recall the now-ancient suggestion of listening to tapes while you slept, but that never really caught on. My temporary solution is to be so wound up that I cannot go to sleep. I eventually do have to sleep, but I jump into theology mode at the first sign of any consciousness, thereby cutting short my sleep and making my day start way before dawn.

I know, you think that I am exaggerating – and you are right. I am still interacting with my family, seeing clients, and reading the sports page. But I am not exaggerating as much as you think I am. The stuff above is much closer to the truth than I would want to admit. It feels like an obsession, an addiction. Addiction can be defined as a repeated process which interferes with your life or the life of others. And right now theology is interfering in my life and the life of others.

I am working on balance. Oh how I hate that word. Instead I like to use the word priority. What are my priorities? Everything is not equal and in balance. Priorities shift, as they should. Right now, divinity school is a priority in my life, but its level of priority is out of whack. The excitement of this new study swells the priority. It just feels so good to study theology. So what do I do?

The answer is not to dampen the excitement, to put a lid on it and make life safe. This excitement is full of the best energy of life. I need to keep the excitement, keep the energy. But at the same time I must attend to the other areas of my life, even if I have to force myself to do it. Over time, the tension of the pulls of the different parts of my life will ease, but I must make sure that I do not do any damage in the meantime.

After all, I am just starting a big zig. When you start a big zig you are leaving the status quo, you are stirring up the pot, you are going into unfamiliar places. It will be messy for awhile. I had worked very hard to build my life just so. It was a life I knew. Even if it was boring, it was safe. This step out into a different life will never be easy, but it will always be exciting. At some point, taking the step is not a choice. I was at a place where I could not stay where I was. To keep the status quo would have caused a step back in life, and I want to move forward.

There are different kinds of zigs. Some zigs take you into excitement, but many take you into the land of pain. The zigs after a divorce or death of a love one will not be full of excitement. Most of the zigs that do not happen by our choice are painful.

Voluntary zigs, the ones which we initiate on our own, tend to be the ones full of new energy and excitement. Zigzaggers learn the terrain of this transition and are not surprised by the shake up of life caused by the zig. Sometimes they need blinders to just get started and they focus only on the one new thing. But soon they take off the blinders and look around. Life is everywhere. Opportunities to love are everywhere. And now they have this wonderful new energy to share.

Now if they could just get some sleep.