Empty Nesting Hatches New Life

My wife and I are in our first several weeks as empty nesters — and to be honest this is pretty awesome.

Our youngest, our daughter, moved out and began her college experience leaving her mom, the dog, and me in her rear view mirror. Don’t get me wrong, there were emotions on both sides, but nothing like what my wife and I thought we’d face at this point in life.

Earlier this summer I found myself standing in the street talking with a neighbor about how my wife and I were emotionally preparing for the ‘coming event’.

Wrapping his arm around his wife, pulling her closer, they both smiled.

“You’re going to love it,” they said.

Looking into each other’s eyes, they both laughed and exchanged a kiss.

“You just don’t know how much fun it will be – just you wait.”

Soon after the red taillights of our daughter’s white car pulling out of the driveway, my wife and I suddenly began to discover a new life revealing itself before us.

Within days we began to be reminded of why we first got together decades ago – but now with advantage of a lifetime of experiences behind us. We’ve always been crazy for each other, but sometimes life can be distracting to keeping your focus on the important things in life – growing together, letting the other one know how much you appreciate them, and discovering different areas of interest without losing touch of the core values you’ve shared as a couple.

You can spot out these people a mile away as a telltale spark tends to appear in their eyes when they see one another across a room. Some live as near as a next door or as far away as across the country. As a matter of fact, now that I know what to look for, I’m seeing them everywhere: the local grocery store, a table just outside a coffee shop, or even a couple walking along the street together.

Empty nesting is not about a fulfilling a long pent up ‘to do’ list but rather creating a brand new chapter in life. While the names on the driver’s license may still read the same, suddenly you both find yourself alone together for the first time in decades. And for some, this can be unnerving.

One morning over breakfast my wife and I were talking about marriage.

“I don’t think you should get married just to be with someone else,” she said, “but because you can’t stand not to be without the other person.”

Fortunately I married her for the right reason.

I’ve heard advice from other about how we are going to love the freedom an empty nester discovers – no more cross-town soccer games, lots of empty dates on the kitchen calendar, and a smaller grocery bill each month. But to be honest, the best thing I’m discovering is more of a realization I am still married to my best friend – the one person I can’t stand to be without.


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Veterans Awaken Hidden Emotions

Earlier this week I saw a hero. Make that several dozen.

While passing through a DC airport security checkpoint, I heard a rolling wave of applause moving towards me like an approaching summer thunderstorm. As I wrestled to gather up my shoes, belt, and laptop, the applause suddenly erupted around me as people turned towards a slow moving group carefully making its way through the terminal.

Dressed in red t-shirts and blue baseball caps embossed with “World War II Veteran” across the front, the airport of busy travelers suddenly came to an abrupt stop.

There is something universally emotional about seeing veterans making a difficult trek to visit a memorial honoring those they served alongside yet didn’t return.

As the group continued to pass through, each veteran with a volunteer escort to help push their wheelchair or offer an arm for stability, emotions swelled in nearly everyone. Travelers reached out to shake hands of those able while others thanked the men for their service and sacrifices. Tears could be found on both sides of the aisle as I witnessed 90-year old men dab their eyes as people approached them or called to them across the room.

And is human nature, I couldn’t help but feel my own body emotionally react to situation — my throat swelling up and tears searching for an exit.

Sometimes it takes a moment like this to remind us what is really important in life.

Only hours before I’d visited the very memorial these men were traveling towards. While I offered my thanks and a prayer for those who gave so much, nothing compares to what I saw in the eyes of these men navigating through the airport. Most were quiet and almost uncomfortable at the attention — probably thinking inside they were the lucky ones. This was not a pleasure trip but more of a trek to humbly visit a piece of real estate set aside to honor those they’d served alongside.

As I made my way to my gate, the procession continued through a small collection of restaurants. All along the way I witnessed not only respect, but genuine love being passed from one generation to another as the group made their way though the crowd of travelers.

Airports, by nature, are rather impersonal. People are racing from gate to gate, checking their phones for email, and living a solitary existence among thousands of strangers. One traveler may look at another, but there is no personal connection – or desire to do so. We strive to be invisible and want it that way.

But it is just this factor that makes the experience of traveler’s lives being interrupted by veterans passing through to pay their respects so incredibly powerful. As if being suddenly awakened from a deep slumber, people’s faces came to life as travelers reached out to pat a veteran on the shoulder or simply share a few kind words.

Today the term ‘hero’ is attached to sports figures, entertainers, or even someone staring on a reality television show. But on this morning, after seeing this group of veterans on the receiving end of so much love and respect, I can’t help but reminded of how much veterans truly evoke emotions reserved for only the very few.

Home Improvement on a Global Scale

The other day I heard someone say the most beautiful thing when I asked about the passing of his friend.

“He laid down for a nap and woke up with Jesus,” he said.

His words took me by surprise. While I was ready to extend sympathy, I suddenly found myself learning a lesson of grace. Here was a man who’d lost a good friend yet exuded genuine warmth in knowing his friend was in a better place.

I think it might be natural for most of us to fear death or treat it with an uncomfortable reverence, as if it might be contagious like the flu. But in the end – and I do mean the literal end – everyone’s time will come. We don’t know the time, the place, or the manner, but we all have an unpublished expiration date.

Earth is home to billions of people, many with vastly different views on everything from how to pray, what foods to eat, or even whom we might like or dislike based on another’s appearance. But at the end of the day, we are all still riding a little blue planet spinning around the sun that has absolutely no regard for our petty differences.

And I believe we all hold life – or our time with loved ones – as the most valuable of commodities. Yes, as a race (the human race, that is), we are amazingly good at complicating a good thing. We invent invisible lines to create boundaries between nations, create prejudices founded in half-truths or ignorance of others, or whip up emotions and actions all under the call of a flag or banner.

But this takes me back to my friend who’d just lost his friend.

We picture his new life as one of happiness, companionship and comfort. A world where we all share values and concern for the well being of each other. This is not a country club where he gets to play all the golf he wants or grabs cold lemonade from the counter without paying. His arrival is based on universal truths and values – ones found in cultures across our globe: the kindness of another, the helping of those in need, or the healing of the sick.

But this only makes me wonder, if this is what we project as our ideal outcome, why don’t we work harder to make this possible on the little piece of real estate we are currently riding around the universe? Why shouldn’t we look for the great number of things we have in common instead of how we are different? Why not create on earth what we all seem envision as our reward at the end of life?

My friend’s words really moved me. Yes, he’d lost someone he dearly loved and respected; yet he was happy for the place where his friend had awoken from his nap. And it gave me an unexpected pause.

While happy his friend is now in a better place, it only makes me want to double-down on making my ride on this little blue marble a better place to live.


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