For a Nest That Empties and Fills Again

Eagles return to the same nest year after year–a steadfast marriage of life long partners and domicile that is both touching and practical.  Generations of offspring are raised in the same tree, hatched upon the same branches lined with the same dirt and down and moss and foliage, then the soiled lining removed by the parents after the fledglings fly.  After being washed clean in the winter rains, the parents return in the spring to replace the soft bedding for the next crop of eggs.  It is a cycle of comfort, of familiarity, and of commitment.

Many see an empty nest as sad and forlorn–a symbol of what was and is no longer.   Others see it as the gateway to freedom from responsibility and the daily cares of parenting worries.  I’m not so sure it is either.

Our children left us to fend for ourselves last August.  It was a distinct adjustment, knocking about in this empty nest without the usual crowd of flying feathers, hungry mouths and busy bathrooms.  When they recently came home for a few weeks at Christmas, it was a joyful reunion with great conversations, singing and music, wonderful meals and memories.  It felt like it always had.

As of today, the nest has emptied again–the house quiet, the refrigerator bare, the bathrooms always available with enough hot water, the calendar suddenly unfilled.  The adjustment again.

I will set to work cleaning, and laundering, and putting away what will be pulled out again in four to five months as they flock home briefly once again.  I know just how to line the nest, making it welcome and familiar to my family who are off to make their own nests elsewhere.   It is important that this home be here for them to land when they need to, to refresh, to relax and to belong and be loved.

There is nothing empty about it.  It is lined with comfort, is chock full of memories, and sits ready with unlimited potential for future gatherings.

And most of all, we’re still here, my husband and I.  There is absolutely nothing empty about that.

For the Best Lullaby of All

The best moment in the barn is in the evening just following the hay feeding, as the animals are settling down to some serious chewing. I linger in the center aisle, listening to the rhythmic sounds coming from each of 12 stalls. It is a most soothing contented cadence, first their lips picking up the grass, then the chew chew chew chew and a pause and it starts again. It’s even better in the dark, with the lights off.

I’ve always enjoyed listening to the eating sounds at night from the remote vantage point of my bedroom TV monitor system set up to watch my very pregnant mares before foaling. A peculiar lullaby of sorts, strange as that seems, but when all my farm animals are chewing and happy,  I am at peace.

It reminds me of those dark deep nights of feeding my own newborns, rocking back and forth with the rhythm of their sucking.  It is a moment of being completely present and peaceful, and knowing at that moment, nothing else matters–nothing else at all.  That must be a little bit how Mary felt cradling her newborn son in a barn so many years ago.  We know she “pondered these things in her heart”, knowing more, much more, was to come…

If I am very fortunate, each day I live has a rhythm that is reassuring and steady, like the sounds of hay chewing, or rocking a baby. I wake knowing where the next step will bring me, and live in each moment fully, without distraction by the worry of the unknown.

But the reality is: life’s rhythms are often out of sync, the cadence is jarring, the sounds are discordant, and sometimes I’m the one being chewed on, so pain replaces peacefulness. Maybe that is why those moments in the barn~~that sanctuary~~are so treasured. They bring me home to that doubting center of myself that needs reminding that pain is fleeting,  and peace, however elusive, is forever. I always know where to find it for a few minutes at the end of every day, in a pastoral symphony of sorts.

Someday my hope for heaven will be angel choruses of glorious praise, augmenting a hay-chewing lullaby.

So simple yet so grand.

For an Old Grey Wool Sock

In my work at a university health center, at least 1/3 of my patients have some sort of upper respiratory infection, often with a significant sore throat.  It is crucial that my medical team members sort through the possibilities of Group A strep throat, mononucleosis, early tonsillar abscess or the rare case of potentially fatal Lemierre’s Syndrome.   Although most of the sore throats are viral infections that will resolve simply with time and rest, the discomfort caused by a sore throat, no matter the cause, is miserable. The students often could benefit from something more than the routine salt water or lidocaine gargle, pain pills and numbing lozenges, and certainly don’t need unnecessary antibiotics.

I think it might be time to bring back an old remedy that worked for me some fifty years ago as a kid with frequent sore throats.  My mother wrapped my neck in one of my father’s old gray wool socks with the red toes and tops, usually one that had been darned one time too many, and just couldn’t hold up in a work boot any longer.  She would rub pungent camphor/menthol Balm Ben Gay on my neck and chest before the sock was wrapped around and anchored toe to rim with a big safety pin.  I was always a little concerned about an inadvertent stab to the jugular while she was snugging it up to be pinned, but she never did draw blood.

The heat from the balm and the comforting wrap of wool calmed the child and the misery.  There was just something about my mother’s ministrations and my father’s large sock around my neck that made me feel completely and utterly cared about.  Maybe there was a therapeutic value beyond that, but I suspect that my immune system simply responded positively to love made tangible.

So I may stock up on gray wool socks, safety pins, and BenGay in the clinic along with the usual bags of tea, instant chicken soup broth and peppermint drops.  If the students don’t go for it (it’s not exactly fashionable to be reeking of camphor and wearing a grey wool collar) then we’ll just start making sock monkeys.  They are therapeutic too.  You can’t look at one without smiling.   You can’t hold one without feeling better.  You can’t sleep with one without having sweet dreams.  They just might cure a viral sore throat all on their own.

Maybe the new medicine is really the old medicine.  I think we have forgotten how well it works.