The plane lifted off and crawled into a fast darkening sky. I watched the lights of San Francisco recede and fall behind until there was nothing to see but blackness. I felt that sad melancholy of leaving people you love behind as the plane took me back to Spokane. I had just watched my eldest son marry the woman of his dreams, the seedling moments from which the tree of relationship would grow. Living in Spokane keeps me far from my children; they are scattered from Seattle to San Francisco to Los Angeles and our seeing one another is a rarity, so seeing any of them is always a treat. But seeing all three at once and having the delicious joy of all of them at once was a pleasure that can only be described as exquisite. Interacting with them day to day allowed me to get accustomed to their presence, to have them just a glance away from me, to be able to reach out and put a hand on their shoulder or share a hug was sublime. Leaving them to scatter away and back to their own homes again was a bittersweet heartbreak.
The marriage of a child is so stark a reminder that life does go on, and that we parents are now extended family to the cores of their own. We are peripherals now, rather than a center. It is no longer up to us to make sure of their safety, nutrition and activity, but to merely watch from the sidelines, quietly cheering them as they now take the reins. But for these few days, these relatively short minutes in the grand scheme of life, I had them all back, and while not necessarily tucked beneath my wing, still close at hand. Close enough that the gravitational waves of family love were almost visible.
The recollecting and reminiscing amplified by the appearance of so many characters in the play of their lives, all reprising their roles as they flocked in to watch and celebrate the wedding. The weekend dunked us all in memories and held us under, we reliving the moments that made us laugh or cry or shout as they happened, but are now things to hold in our hands and inspect, turning them over and over as we remember them. So many years of growing a family, only to have life rightfully smash it, sending the pieces flying off in all directions where they would start the process over again. Some day in the future they too will be looking back and remembering.
But the view is not solely backwards. It is a perspective on the present, seeing what my children have become, and feeling so much pride that I wondered if my chest might explode. Stopping to think my way from the first days in the hospital with each of them, our very first meeting, and the ride from there to the present taking so little time. In so many ways it feels like just yesterday that I saw each of them brand new and tiny enough to fit easily into my hands. I see them now as these awesome people, each doing what they set out to do, so much more successful than I. Who could know, even ten years ago that it would be like this? I had the sense they would do fine, but to see it now just adds to my awe at who they have become. Certainly not my babies anymore, they are people having earned the respect of so many. At the wedding I was approached by so many people who just had to meet me, saying how they just had to meet me and shake my hand for bringing such greatness into their lives. How is a father not to slip away to hide the tears of pride in his children? ”Your son is just awsome! Your daughter is amazing! Your boys are incredible.”
I know this. And so as I sit in this airplane and hear the murmurs of conversation above the rumble of jets and wind, I look out into the blackness and try to keep from jumping up and screaming to be taken back. Not just to San Francisco, but to those first moments of their lives so I can do this all over again. But I know that can’t happen, and with things as they are, with my illness festering away inside me, that this may well have been the last time I might get to see them all in so happy a circumstance. The last time to have them close by and feeling like a proud daddy and basking in their smiling laughter.
When my time is up, there will be something that I know. I will have the knowledge that they will carry on, spreading their wit and humor on and on. And that will make the leaving both that much easier and that much harder. I would want to witness it all. But I am caught in the cycle of life, just as all before me and all who will follow. A part of a process of over and overness; we all ride on the wheel of time. But it’s a worthwhile process, and weekends like this are testament to it. I have to be satisfied because there is no other choice available. I am grateful for this weekend, and all of the days that I spent as a father. I will, though, cherish this weekend especially because I had believed I would never get it, life having taken the turns it did. I am blessed to have the wonderful children I do, and privileged to have been able to take part in their lives.
There is a rumbling noise as the wheels are lowered and there are lights again visible out the window. Even in the dark I can recognize the features of my home town. In a few minutes I will get off the plane and go back to my own house, my own bed, and my own life. The flight has passed so quickly as the memories of the weekend swirled in my head, punctuated by snapshots of the previous thirty years of my life. The very best years, of course, because they were populated by my children. The very best people I know.