Two of my children have celebrated educational milestones in recent weeks. One graduated from college with a degree in Mathematics and Physics and will be going on to acquire a degree in engineering. The now customary downpour accompanied his ceremonies.
Another graduated from high school on a glorious sunny day. Both had substantial earthly cheering sections that included aunts and uncles and cousins. To my daughter’s delight, she was presented by cousins with gear from the college she will attend in August.
After the second graduation we promptly launched a very special trip with their dad’s ashes (more to come on that). At one particularly rainy recent juncture we found ourselves at Belfast’s waterfront, where my recently graduated daughter suggested we take the “Titanic Boat Tour.”
I know, I know. That was my initial thought as well: Titanic boat tour? Doesn’t that call an unfortunate outcome to mind? Just how much verisimilitude is involved?
It turned out to be a fascinating trip. We were told that for decades the Titanic, which was built in and launched from Belfast’s unparalleled shipyard, was the Voldemorte of the sea: the Ship that Must Not be Named. Because of its fate under others’ direction, the magnificent ship that should have been a source of pride became a font of unjustified blame and unspoken shame.
It was only relatively recently that Belfast reclaimed the Titanic and its accompanying engineering feats. According to our own captain, no ship–not then and not now–could withstand running at nearly top-speed (almost 23 knots) into a million-ton iceberg. The city has taken back pride in its creation.
The new slogan? “She was alright when she left here.”
It occurred to me that this captures many of my sometimes warring feelings about my children’s commencements. I am so proud of them, and grateful to have had a role in nurturing and creating the independent people they have come to be. I am in awe of their capacity to get through what they’ve had to navigate at such tender ages, including staying at their father’s side night and day as he was dying, and then going back to school and work–where they did not simply get by, but have been marvels.
What happens from now on is, in many ways, out of my control. My children all are equipped to do incredible things, but I can’t control what’s out there. On any given journey there may be substantial or even insurmountable obstacles. Life largely is made up of joint enterprises, and fate can deal out opportunities and cooperation, grace and beauty, friendship and love–and also, sometimes, a crew that steers hard a-starboard.
As a parent I will never feel that I’ve been good enough, but I’ve done some things right. Above all, I had a wonderful co-parent who lives on in all of our children.
In Ways of Going Home, Alejandro Zambra wrote: “Parents abandon their children. Children abandon their parents. Parents protect or forsake, but they always forsake. Children stay or they go but they always go.” The unfairness of it all, he writes, lies even and indeed “especially [in] the sounds of the words, because the language is pleasing and confusing, because ultimately we would like to sing or at least whistle a tune, to walk alongside the stage whistling a tune. We want to be actors waiting patiently for the cue to walk onstage. But the audience left a long time ago.”
As much as they can be, my children are alright as they leave here. They are unbelievably strong–much more than I think they know. They don’t need much, if any, of my direction. And I know they’ll be whistling and singing whenever they can, without need for an audience.