I remember one morning when I prepared to head into Dallas for work. It was very early; some days I began my practice as a therapist at 6:30 am to meet with professionals before they themselves began their own workdays. I appreciated the work that I was able to do, and knew that it was a good work of service to others. My son was standing on the counter where I had lifted him to say goodbye.
He stood at eye level to me in his pajamas. I said, “I will see you tonight,” as I prepared to hug him before setting him gently back on the floor. The kitchen clock ticked in the early morning quiet between us. After I spoke he said, “Don’t you love me?” in the way a child speaks so truthfully—pure and direct without a grasp of compromise, no resignation, open to needing, vulnerable in heart.
His question made my head tilt like a golden retriever working to grasp a human statement. I kind of thought I grasped what he was saying. “If you love me, don’t we stay together like yesterday when we played football in the backyard?”
I felt a wave of sadness, as understanding and conflict rolled up inside of me. I looked at him and told him that I loved him and would return. I hoped with everything in me that I would be able to keep that promise, but I knew that even those words were not as certain as my hope. I knew that he didn’t understand time, service, work as we grown ups know it, responsibility, and hard choices. I also knew that he couldn’t grasp reality, and the tragic rejection of grace by our forebears (Genesis) that left us stranded, but for our cry out from the heart and the rescue of grace.
I felt sadness about life itself—glorious and tragic. I knew that I “had” to leave. I understood how the world operated, and I understood quite a bit about life on life’s terms. That understanding did not make it easier to say goodbye. I left him sad and I left sad, and that was just one little moment in a lifetime of moments. That truth and our willingness to contend with it rather than ignore it is how we keep love alive.
Sonya walked into the kitchen as I hugged our son tightly. I hugged her then, grateful that she was with him, as I left. I would return, God willing, and I did. I have been able to return for years and years, thankfully. How we leave and how we return, and what we do in between all matter.