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January 27, 1995 - Image 12

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-01-27

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

In Search Of An
Empty-Nest Ceremony

RABBI ROBERT A. ALPER SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

W

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price determined at lease . inception. To get total payments. multiply by 24, 42 or 48.

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'ARTERS • ALTERNATORS • FAN BELTS • FLOOR MATS • SEAT COVERS • JUMPER CABLES • BRAKE SPECIAL • WIPERS "El

hen I was a smart young
rabbi and knew quite a
lot, I created worship
services for little chil-
dren, adapted baby-naming cere-
monies, and lectured to new
mommies and daddies about how
to raise their children Jewishly.
Now I'm a not-as-smart mid-
dle-aged rabbi who wishes that
somewhere, a more enthusiastic
middle-aged colleague would cre-
ate a life-cycle ceremony that ad-
dresses events I find myself going
through: kids leaving home.
Sometimes it feels as if Ju-
daism, and probably most other
organized religions, guide and nur-
ture us through the many stages
of parenting, from birth rituals
and the beginnings of religious ed-
ucation right on through the
agony of adolescence. But sud-
denly it seems as if we parents are
on our own at the parting, the mo-
ment when our children embark
on the step that, for most, changes
their status in our homes from res-
ident to visitor.
Whether it's college, a job, the
armed services, there comes that
moment, and for parents the ex-
perience is often similar.
When I went offto Lehigh Uni-
versity in the fall of 1962 my par-
ents drove me to campus, six
hours from home. We unloaded
my stuff, made the uncomfortable
introductions with my room-
mates and the fearsome dorm
counselor, and then my parents
gracefully took their leave. About
three decades later my mother
confessed that after they exited
the campus they pulled the car
over to the side of the street,
turned off the engine, and cried.
On a whitewater rafting trip
in Idaho I became friendly with
a fellow from Oregon named
Patrick Michael Sean O'Hallo-
ran. He told me that when he en-
tered college in 1961 his
Irish-Catholic parents drove him
to the California campus. They
unloaded the car quickly, and he
was pleased that they departed
soon after. A few miles into the
trip home, Pat only recently
learned, his parents pulled into
a highway rest area, turned off
the engine, and cried.
There must be a better way to
launch children into their inde-
pendence.
Some of life's major events are

Rabbi Robert A. Alper conducts
High Holiday services in
Philadelphia and the rest of the
year performs nationally as a
stand-up comic. He lives in
East Dorset, Vt.

marked by a very discernible oc-
currence, the instant of birth be-
ing the most clear. Other events
are spread out over time: the tran-
sition from babyhood to person-
hood, for example, or the passage
through adolescence, which for
some takes an entire decade. Even
a wedding, though it has a prime
moment, is diffused over the
months of preparation and the
hours of ceremonial festivities.
But that leave-taking comes
upon us abruptly, sometimes
with no forethought or prepara-
tion, and certainly without ritu-
al to help us endure. It may
happen in this way because our
children are focused on what lies
ahead, and we parents are equal-
ly invested in avoiding thinking
about what their loss ... and that
is the key word ... what their loss
will mean to us, to our home, to
our relationships. And so we all
conspire to avoid thinking about
what is about to happen.
I remember how our son left
home.
Zack's departure was more
complex than the norm. Our fam-
ily was in a state of very happy
transition, about to realize a long-
held "impossible" dream of leav-
ing our Philadelphia suburb and
moving to Vermont. It was the
end of June, and my wife, Sher-
ri, already had gone north to start
her new job. Jesse had begun her
final year at summer camp. Zack
and I remained at the house.
I packed, while Zack celebrat-
ed his graduation from high
school with a round of farewell
parties. His plan was to spend the
summer working at the New Jer-
sey shore, living in a two-bedroom
"genteel poverty" flat with a
group of between three and eight
other kids. At the end of August
he would continue south to col-
lege in North Carolina.
At that time Zack was driving
a 1984 Volvo sedan. I bought it
new, thinking that it was the
kind of car that I could use, then
pass on to Sherri, and later, per-
haps, even to the kids. At 124,000
miles it came into Zack's posses-
sion, and on that June day it was
packed to the ceiling with all that
was important to its owner.
"Gotta split, Dad. Josh is wait-
ing at his house and we're going
to drive down to the shore to-
gether. Bye."
"Bye." Is that how childhood
ends? "Bye?" Just like that?
I thought about the events of
the day, thought about how hap-
py I am for him, and how proud

... And also how sad, how selfishly
sad I felt at his departure. 1=1

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