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Is This the Girl I Carried?

My mother used to sing, in a scattershot way (she forgot entire lines and stitched the holes together by humming and mumbling), songs from Fiddler on the Roof. I grew up listening to her, in her low alto like a man’s baritone, declaiming, “If I were a rich man…,” arms akimbo, kick-stepping like she was leading a line dance at some bar mitzvah. And I can still see her moving about the house in sweeping motions, crooning, “match-maker, match maker make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch,” filling in with gibberish words she couldn’t recall.

But she would tear up when singing “Sunrise, Sunset.” Sometimes she’d stop mid-phrase, words catching in a thickness of emotion. I didn’t understand why. She said I would one day.

That day would be Wednesday.

Cheryl and I took our girls to Chemainus Theater’s excellent production of Fiddler on the Roof the night before I drove Sarah to the airport and kissed her goodbye. She’s off to university in Quebec. When Tevye, Fiddler’s bewildered father, began to sing at his eldest daughter’s wedding the opening line from that song – Is this the little girl I carried? – I lost it. I sat in my chair trying to hold myself in one piece. And then the chorus came and sent me over the edge:

Sunrise, sunset Sunrise, sunset Swiftly fly the years One season following another Laden with happiness and tears

I know the sadness of sorrow is great. But the sadness of happiness is great, too: to have loved and been loved, deeply, and then to endure the inevitable separations and losses life brings. Love makes us vulnerable. Simply, in love we wound easily.

So forgive me if you notice me limping slightly, moving slower.

Don’t misunderstand: I’m thrilled with and for Sarah. She is a beautiful woman of faith and courage. She’s always had an appetite for adventure, and I knew that God gave her to us – as he does with all children – to shape her heart, not supress her personality. I sensed from early on that she would leave us sooner than later, chasing some big wild dream. So be it.

Still, there’s no preparing. I stood Thursday morning at the airport security gate, rummaging for something wise to say. Nothing came. Only, “I love you. I’ll miss you. I’m proud of you.”

Which, I guess, is wisdom enough.

And then, just like that, the little girl I once carried walked away. I returned to my car, feeling tremendously old. Feeling the sadness of happiness. Wishing for nothing to be otherwise, and yet, and yet…. O mother, now I understand.

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