Bidding my oldest son farewell in a parking lot at the University of Notre Dame and beginning a 2,500 mile drive home without him is a moment I will cherish as a right of passage for both of us.
This day did not come suddenly like a thief in the night; rather, it arrived after days, months, and years of preparation and anticipation. His entrance to university life was a goal and an exit strategy, established in the first days of home school kindergarten (or perhaps from the womb). A true mark of success and a great cause for celebration, this day was never-the-less laden with a wide range of emotions and required extraordinary grace from above to be enjoyed rather than endured.
Anxiety and sorrow at the thought of our first parent/child separation began to strike months before the actual event. As the date of departure approached, waves of emotion could powerfully grip my maternal heart without notice or provocation. On of the first tangible realizations of things to come hit me last year in Italy, when Zachary’s community college schedule dictated his return to classes twelve days before the end of our family pilgrimage. On the day he flew home unaccompanied to the United States, we drove from Rome across the Italian countryside to St. Pio’s San Giovanni Rotondo. My tears flowed freely as I felt the growing pains of his entry into adulthood.
Throughout the weeks leading up to the start of this school year, thoughts of Zachary’s going away would strike without warning. Something as simple as an expiration date stamped on a food item would ignite thoughts of our impending transition~ this carton will expire after Zachary is gone! Not that I wanted him to stay; his entrance to a prestigious university is a fitting reward for years of diligent work and a product of thoughtful discernment.
Zac’s choice of university had been somewhat troubling at first, in light of Notre Dame’s recent public glorification of our (outrageously pro-abortion, seemingly anti-religion) president at the 2009 commencement. However, sound spiritual and tangible advice from trusted leaders, including our priest and our bishop gave us peace of mind and allowed us to put all of our trust in God and his divine plan for our son’s life. We gave our son the freedom to choose his university, wanting the discernment process and subsequent decision to truly be his. His formation sound, his faith firm, we believe that the Catholic university, his beloved grandfather’s Alma mater, will benefit by Zachary’s attendance and that Zachary will become a better person for having attended.
On the Feast of St Lawrence, only days before we delivered our first-born son from Northwest Washington to South Bend Indiana, the Word of God set me free from the urgent pre-departure fears and gathering storm of self pity. As I read St. Paul’s inspired words at daily Mass, a true sense of calm and a deep consolation filled my soul. It was as if this letter had been sent from God to me, a divine gift to prepare me for the monumental task at hand:
Brothers and Sisters: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work As it is written: He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever. The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 2 Cor 9: 6-10
Recalling this scripture passage like a powerful antidote, God loves a cheerful giver, I was determined to remain joyful despite the ever lurking temptation toward despair or dwelling on the pain of separation. Looking to the ultimate role model of maternal love, I fondly and frequently remembered our Blessed Mother and asked her prayers. Many others here on earth were asked for prayers, too. The reassurance offered in a hand written letter from one of my prayer anchors was invaluable:
“Mothers give up their sons and daughters for selfish reason and it is a shame. Indeed it is unacceptable to give up our children for any reason except for God and his will.”
The spiritual training and thoughtful preparation for the moment of farewell paid off. We prayed together as a family in the parking lot, we each gave Zachary a hug and well wishes for his freshman year at Notre Dame. Choked up with emotion though I was, by God’s grace the joy of the moment and the excitement of my son’s new life took center stage, as is only fitting.