Empty Nest

The Empty Nest

I’ve been looking at this bird’s nest out my kitchen window all winter, and keep thinking that I’d like to find an angle at which to photograph it. I’m not sure why… its just an ordinary bird’s nest. Its from last year, but I didn’t know it was there until after the leaves blew off the tree last fall. I remember when I first noticed it. The leaves still clung to the red twigs and bi-colored branches. They were gold. I made a pair of earrings one day that captured the colors in that window pane. The gold was a butterscotch colored citrine, peruvian opal the color of the sky, a fancy emerald green garnet called a tsavorite represented the evergreen tree that formed the backdrop to a little world inside that single pane. Most of the earrings I make are in silver. This pair demanded gold.

I wore them once… to the memorial service for my best friend of 30 years. She wanted everyone to wear green to her service. Emerald green for Ireland, for both of us, our roots.

The scene inside that pane of glass transported me beyond its frame. I sat there and wrote about the piercing grief that consumed the fall. I watched the leaves fall from from the Coral Bark Maple. One by one, I said good-bye. When they were gone, they revealed the empty nest.

My nest is not empty yet. I have still two children at home. But the time will come sooner than I will be ready. The pile of envelopes with names of colleges in the upper left corner is already filling the table in the front hall again like it did two years ago. Now Charlotte is in Southern California. In a year, Robby will know where he will be spending the next four years. Gillian too, but her next four years will be high school. She’s already aware that the nest is going to feel very empty without the other two.

A while back, Charlotte had told me she wouldn’t be coming home for spring break. She had a few different ideas floating around. I didn’t want to press for details. Today she called and said she might want to come home after all. I like to think that it all seems very normal and appropriate to have her gone; that I have adjusted to it by now. My heart told me otherwise today. I had to disguise my joy. I didn’t want to influence her decision. We miss her though. All of us. The nest does feel a little empty.

This morning, I sat curled up in the corner of Karin’s couch writing about losses. I wrote about missing flip-flops and the socks that vanish in the laundry. I wrote about things that go missing and then reappear like earrings that fall out in my clothes. I wrote about the things that disappear inside my house, in my bedroom, even on my desk, never to reappear again. It was a funny little piece. It made me laugh when I was finished and read it aloud.

Tonight I write about other losses. And somehow it happened that the only series of photographs I took today was of an empty nest. After looking at that nest in that Coral Bark Maple since November, I finally climbed up on the railing at one this afternoon, balanced carefully, reached above my head and pressed the shutter. The first few frames were off. I couldn’t see through the viewfinder and I had to put the camera into the tree to get it close enough to the nest. After about 10 frames, I finally got it adjusted and framed the way I had envisioned. I admired the craftsmanship in the nest’s construction and wondered about the builder. What kind of bird? How many eggs? Did the babies fly out from behind the screen of leaves, or did they inch their way out along the branch on their little feet until they had a clear view? How is it that I didn’t ever see them coming and going? All of these questions crossed my mind. There was a whole life story going on within 10 feet of my back door and I didn’t know it. That story is gone now. The babies grew up and flew away. My babies are growing up and flying away one by one.

I would say that I am still too young to start losing my friends, but I am not. The illusion of youth is slowly being stripped away. I looked around this fall at my friend’s memorial; at all of the faces that I had known since college years when we were immune to the possibility of loss. The truth that we hid from was starting to dawn on us. Some losses are too big to deny and gloss over. Some losses stop you in your tracks and demand that you look, listen and learn. As we begin to open ourselves to the losses that life deals out, acknowledging and embracing them at last, maybe we are now ready to leave the empty nests that litter our lives empty. Maybe we are willing to let the emptiness inform us and shape us. Maybe we can slow down long enough to feel the emptiness that accompanies our losses instead of running from it. Maybe we will learn that empty is and has its own fullness and we will be richer for it.

I did my cheater thing tonight. I published this post at midnight, half-written. I didn’t sit down here to write all of this, but I guess it wanted to be written. Maybe this morning’s writing about loss was the preamble. The nest called me. It wasn’t an idea. I sat down here tonight to write something short to go along with the nest photo and head to bed. That’s what happens with this blog. It leads. I follow and learn.

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