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Free Therapy #40: Why Are We Here? Love

They were not loyal to a party or a country or an idea, they were loyal to one another.” George Orwell

As I write these words, I am sitting in the back of my wife’s Prius as we head up 101 from Santa Barbara, feeling a tremendous mixture of emotions after watching my youngest daughter graduate from college.

I remember when I did not have children, when I had not yet met my wife; when I was 28, newly divorced and alone in my tiny apartment on Churn Creek Road. It was 1984 and I had just watched a movie about the aftermath of a nuclear war where billions had perished and only a few survived. Watching the movie left me feeling this profound sense of sadness and fear that I might never be a father. I had never had that sense before, the aching need to have a child.

Five years later, when my first daughter was born I discovered depths of emotion that mesmerized and terrified me in ways I’d never known. I immediately fell deeply in love and yet there was this fear and anxiety that I might not get it right.

Life can be glorious and cruel, lovely and harsh, generous and inexplicably mean. To fall in love with our kids means we suffer repeated assaults of joy and sadness as they grow from little creatures who need us for everything to mature beings to whom we become somewhat superfluous.

If we get the parenting right enough, we are left behind as our arrows soar. The bow cannot follow where the arrows go. Our main job and principal duty – the launching of warm, intelligent, creative, beautiful, bold, resilient, loving and most of all, independent humans – is done.

It wasn’t my first graduation ceremony. Between my two girls, it was number eight. But this one was particularly special, not because of what it contained, but because of what it didn’t. It was what was missing that gave it extra meaning.

Three weeks and two days before several thousand friends and relatives gathered on a green lawn before a wide stage to celebrate their loved one’s momentous achievement, six young lights were forever extinguished.

A mad man, a sad man, a crazed and confused boy-man found it necessary to slaughter a few of his fellow travelers: brilliant, beautiful beings who were just emerging, all because his cruel pain was too large and heavy to keep to himself.

The presence of the missing was felt by everyone as each speaker honored them with words of genuine, piercing love and care. I kept thinking about the broken parents, their dead children like holes in their hearts that would never – could never – be filled again; the endless grief from losing their own flowering future; their once hallowed and now strangely hollow hopes dissolving into decimated desires, stunted destinies and frozen dreams.

Such senseless deaths don’t just kill once. They shatter outward like cracking glass, ripping and tearing all who find themselves connected within the fabric of family, the sewn cloth of shared values, the quilt of community and common concern.

High behind us, perched upon the tallest building overlooking the field, uniformed men with binoculars, telescopes and guns studied the scene, like protective parents silently seeking our safety and security; a quiet, sad reminder of how fragile life is and how menacing it has become.

In the midst of funeral remembrance rose triumphant joy and celebration as the robed, capped students happily bubbled onto the field, winding their way like a river to their seats. Surrounding them like large muscular arms, an ocean of pride-bursting parents, grandparents and siblings joined with devoted friends to love their special one from afar. Like mother penguins seeking out their young on a crowded beach, cell phones became the beacons of light as the calls went out: “Where are you? Here I am! See me! See me! Send me your love as I send you mine!”

Among the 500, we scanned the sea of black robes for our precious darling. “She’s waving her program. Don’t you see her?” my wife repeatedly asked me. I felt stupid and blind as I counted ten robed figures waving programs. “Which one is she?” I asked, a bit frustrated and sad.

Later her boyfriend called her one final time and told her, “Your dad still hasn’t seen you. Try again.” This time when she rose, my heart rose with her – leaped really – and I felt like crying as I excitedly waved and waved. I knew I was a silly man and did not care.

What is this thing called love? Is there anything more strong, more powerful, more intoxicating? If we could die for any cause in this world, is there anything more worthy than this feeling of devotion and loyalty we feel for one another? Sadly, we know too well that some will kill from the terrible sickness of not having it.

Later I asked my daughter why she had a picture of a smiling Asian boy pinned to her stole. She explained he was someone who lived in her apartment building her first year at the college. She hesitated before nervously explaining how he had taken his own life. Like my child, several of his friends pinned his picture to their robes that day. I again thought of his parents.

Our love never dies. If we have it, it’s because someone gave it to us; if we are to retain its lovely, tender light, we must continually give it away. Life is one long continuous labor of love and pain. If we are lucky, we keep choosing to love, believing in love, surrendering to love. Remember: it’s why we’re here.

Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 25 years. He believes in magic and is a Sacramento Kings fan.

Douglas Craig

Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 30 years. He believes in magic and is a Dawes fan.

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