THE COLUMN

Issue No. 57/March 2, 1996


GROWING UP

IVAN HOFFMAN

When I look at my children, two sons, I often cry. I cry because I am proud of who they are, what kind of humans they have turned out to be-independent, free, following their hearts if in different ways, caring, loving, kind humans.

But I also cry out of some deep sense of sadness. Or loss. Or something about which I am not at all sure. I have tried to put my finger on it, or maybe my heart on it, to figure it out because it is in my nature to try to figure things out. It is, after all, what I am doing here, on these pages. You would not expect less, I am certain. I have yet to come up with any clear answer, however, to what this sadness is about. Let me explore.

I know that these mixed feelings of love and sadness have come during the past five years, five years during which my life has changed in radical ways. In this half-decade, I have lost much. I have lost a career, voluntary though it may have been. I have lost a love, a marriage, a dog, and much of what passed previously for ego. And my children. I have lost my children.

I have lost my children not only because they have each moved some great distance away; one to Cincinnati and the other to Japan. That would be too easy an explanation for the sense of loss that I feel. I have also lost them as children; lost them to adulthood.

In the process of so losing my children, I believe I have lost some sense of my own childhood. As they have grown, first pimples, then beards, I have grown. As obvious as this may appear, it did not hit me, or make its mark upon my heart, until I was stripped of all that protected me. Stripped of love, stripped of ego, I have been laid bare. And the bareness of my heart has created a vacuum. Seeing my children grow has accentuated the vacuum. It is a vacuum of youth.

When children grow, they mark our lives like the hash marks we carved on door jambs to mark their growth. Their growth points out how far, or maybe not so far, we, the parents have come. Their growth makes our sense of urgency more, well-- more urgent. Without their growth, we could perhaps ignore our own growth, our own lack of growth, our own longings for something different. They present us with one of those experiences that we cannot ignore except through some skillful denials. Or a new car.

When we were all younger and got our dog Murray, he was just a puppy. When you love a puppy, the dog remains a puppy for his entire life. They grow but they don't grow up. The sense of wonder at everything, the innocence, never goes away. We can always find our own sense of wonder, of innocence playing on the floor with them. We can laugh. We can love with the innocence of youth, free of the fear that comes with the love lessons presented us in real, adult life. Puppies love us unconditionally and we learn to love them unconditionally. My sons and I learned through our collective and individual love of Murray to love each other unconditionally. I learned to love my children the way Murray taught; without fear, without worry, without the overarching dread of "what if it ends."

Love in the rest of life seems to be lacking in that sense of wonder, that sense of innocence. It has, by its very nature, become filled with anguish that seems inappropriate to the idea of love. And yet, adult love seems to be that way. It is not unconditional. It is not fearless. It is scary.

But children grow and, when they do, they expose our own sense of loss of innocence. Perhaps what I am experiencing is in a way a loss of innocence. It makes me pause, reflect, perhaps wish things could have been different. Different choices. Different results.

And of course we want our children to grow. We want them to experience all that life has to offer, even if we continue to believe we can somehow shield them from having their hearts hurt. Or having their souls laid bare. We would not want our children to remain puppies forever.

But we want ourselves to remain puppies forever.

© 1996 Ivan Hoffman


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