The Empty Nest

I recently had the good fortune to attend the 25th Anniversary Celebration for The Center for Global Education at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. The gala was a weekend affair, as it brought together many of the staff and past CGE travelers from over the years, and wonderful stories flowed freely during the entire time. To top off a very exciting and energizing time, I also received a framed drawing from the Center, in thanks for past affiliations.

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The drawing is a black-and-white rendering of a flourishing tree, with rugged roots and trunk supporting thick and spreading foliage above. At the top of the tree sits a well-formed nest, with an adult bird keeping watch over two young chicks and, in the distance, another adult member flying in apparent return to the home. The very first image that popped into my head had to do with empty nests, and how this nest, too, would soon be vacated by the young. Actually, the pen-and-ink artwork is evocative of many feelings, depending upon my mood and experiences of the day. I love it for the many ideas that flow from it.

Maybe the idea of an empty nest struck me because we are experiencing some of that in our household, as well. Our second set of twins has now left for college, with no younger siblings to demand the attention of my wife or me. I’m acutely aware of the relatively quiet and orderly feel to our home and the sense that somehow this is the proper order of things, that now is the time for parents to sit back and reclaim their own time, to relax in the aftermath of work (hopefully) well done. And many people have observed to us that the empty nest represents our time, supposedly for places and activities for our enjoyment, a reward for having survived parenthood.

I’ll admit to liking the sound of all of that: a victory celebration, at last a time for self, having fewer obligations for others, a chance to finally enjoy the nest that we have spent our lives building. I even looked forward to the transition with that self-focus in mind. That is, until I got to thinking about what an empty nest really is.

The proverbial nest is emptied as its young fledglings reach a stage in life where they fly away to do what they were born to do. They are finally able to navigate the world around them with enough instinct, experience and strength to not only survive, but also to raise up other generations. They become the legacies of those who have come before and the purveyors of the future. It’s a noble and necessary role. It is a “circle of life” transition, and that is why I have come to regard it as my own.

It occurs to me that the empty nest is the one that I should leave behind, that it is my flight that is beckoning. Yes, my children need to get about the task of moving into full adulthood, but the time for new opportunity now exists for me as well as for my kids. And that big, broad world needs me every bit as much as it needs the promise of my children; in fact, I have a lifetime of perspective that the young are just beginning to accumulate. Those of us old enough to contemplate the reality of an empty nest bear a mantle of responsibility to fly from it ourselves. There are many places and people simply waiting for us to show up. Just look about. Our children are not the only ones with a bright new future ahead.

When I coax new thoughts from the pen-and-ink drawing, the nest itself always stands out from among the leaves and branches. It is a durable dwelling place that will withstand the winds and changes of seasons with resilience. The nest is central and constant, and I imagine that its inhabitants return whenever the homing instinct brings them back. The young as well as the old can take comfort in that….

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