Walking Away

by Rod Smith

“I’ve had worse partings, but none still so gnaws my mind,” writes Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis in “Walking Away.”

Observing from a distance, Day-Lewis sees his young son disappear into a throng of boys each beginning a new phase of life at boarding school.

“… like a satellite

Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away,

Behind a scatter of boys.“

Day-Lewis knows the inevitable separation that is necessary for his son’s selfhood, independence, then, interdependence. It nonetheless “gnaws” despite his acknowledgment of “nature’s give and take.”

“Selfhood begins with walking away and love is proved in letting go,” concludes Day-Lewis.

I have treasured this poem for decades, read it many times while growing up.

It helped me to know my own walking away was indeed necessary.

It helped me frame the pain, the confusion I caused and saw evidenced on my beloved mother’s face, when on rare occasions, I had the humility and awareness to see it. It gave a glimpse into my father’s helpless shrug admitting powerlessness over my aloof, indifferent swagger.

I knew instinctively that everything living requires space, room to grow, a safe and secure nest; a den simultaneously free and open, open to accept the ebbs and flows of life, growth, success, and disappointments, angry departures, humble returns.

Now that my sons, both of whom I adopted at birth, are young adults I read “Walking Away” differently than I did before.

I have had a ring-side seat.

I’ve watched two boys learn to crawl, walk, then run towards manhood and the only thing that “gnaws at my mind” about their reaching manhood is that it all happened so rapidly.

My sons are warm men. They are respectful of authority, hard-workers, each earning an honest day’s living, both of whom I have watched learn to walk, and walk away, and walk alongside, and walk behind, and rush on ahead. In all this walking, miles, miles, and more miles, they have become magnificently more and more of the man each is ordained to be.

Yes, like Day-Lewis, I have pained at certain times, during certain phases, as I have watched them walk and watched them fall. Their “falls” are cushioned with the knowledge that I too have run ahead of myself and yes, fallen myself, more often than I have been open to admit – especially to each of them.

But, preeminently, the pain that has persistently hit me hardest, and gnaws at a primal depth, is the ongoing awareness of what it took for their birth mothers, defying even “nature’s give and take,” to Walk Away.

Day-Lewis says the separation gnaws at his mind and I get that. I know that pain. But, it is “clean” pain. It is a pain that every rational, reasonable parent knows is inevitable and accepts with accommodating grace, even prepares for it.

When juxtaposed with what our two heroic birth mothers volunteered to endure, our pain, Cecil Day-Lewis’s and mine, and perhaps yours, is surely a mere, ever-healing, diminishing bump or bruise, a “charlie-horse.”

I indeed have gotten gifts from two women, gifts that “keep on giving” but they, these two powerful and generous women, gave gifts that surely keep on wrenching, churning, gnawing and pulling, shoving, year-by-year, birthday-by-birthday within the deepest recesses of their minds and souls.

How much thank you is enough, all birth mothers everywhere?

Take a bow.

Hear a thunderous applause from men and women whom you made dads and moms in every time zone and on every continent.

There is no thank you loud and broad and high and deep enough that will ever suffice.

Then, I am amazed at what strength and resilience has been demanded of each of my boys to know his mother walked away and was motivated to do so by love.

Love, love, and more love, drove their choices in the hopes, belief, faith that each boy would be positioned to walk away and walk toward a life each birth mother had the foresight, the strength, the humility, and the character to know that she herself would find impossible to provide for this newborn baby whom she so dearly loved – and loved enough to walk away.

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