Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.
― Maya Angelou
A pair of trumpeter swans return to my pond each spring. I dubbed them Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet. I wondered if they, like Jane Austen characters, faced challenges in their courtship. So, I began to research swan behaviors. I learned that swans imprint on a mate and on an area, forming a strong bond to ward off would-be predators. If separated, they will return to familiar areas, to find each other. Facing dangers along the way, the urge to reunite is strong. They mate for life. If one partner dies, swans will mourn for months before looking for another mate. It sounds like a Hallmark romance, the stuff of Hollywood, and not too far from home.
Imprinting: If separated, swans will mourn the loss and return to familiar areas.
I see this lady, with her wide brimmed straw hat, sitting on this bench near the pond every morning.
Barring wind or rain, I see her there, and I wonder about her. Why is she alone? Why this place?
One morning, I stopped to say a brief hello. She offered her hand, her name and her story.
Kathleen sits on this bench, her back pressed against the brass plate that is inscribed with a dedication to her late husband, Jim. In his lifetime, Jim was an ardent protector of the natural settings. Together they would sit there, enjoying the herons, egrets and swans flourish in their natural habitat. She misses her husband. After more than fifty years of marriage, life without him is a great loss. Author Barbara Kingsolver, in her bestseller, Unsheltered, observes that loss of a loved one doesn’t happen in one day. Loss happens each day we keep living. Now alone without her soulmate, Kathleen sits on this bench, where she first thanks God for the beauty of the day, followed by her “chat” with Jim. It is here by this pond, where she returns to feel close to his spirit.
Imprinting: Rapid learning, usually happening at birth, that establishes long-lasting behavioral responses to a place or living thing. This is often referred to as a homing instinct.
The yearning for home. Do humans have a homing instinct? Researchers cannot say for sure, but neither can they rule it out. My story might be convincing evidence, though. Back in 2005, I felt that undeniable yearning. In that same year, Michael Buble’s song “I Want to go Home” became a number one hit and went platinum. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one longing for home.
After forty years enjoying life in the west, first Colorado and then California, I began to think of my growing up years in southern New Jersey and reminisce. Forgotten places like the thickly wooded pine barrens, briny backwater lagoons, the Atlantic shore and acres of farmlands found primary spaces in my heart. Likewise, coupled with this mounting nostalgia was an increasing detachment to my current life. I began to question my life choices. Then came the unmistakable tug. Whatever kept me loosely tethered to my east coast roots, began to feel like a fully extended bungee cord pulling me back, with urgency. And somehow, I knew it was God’s hand pulling me homeward.
For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. (Jer 29:11)
It was the worst time to relocate. Markets falling, houses devalued, yet, I put my faith in God’s plan. It cost me dearly, financially, but my emotional income was sky high. I was pulled back home, and delightfully experienced double and triple rainbows. My daughter met the love of her life, a man from my hometown who was to become her husband and father of my three grandchildren. My return was welcomed back by my circle of family and friends, intact, as though I never left. And, while my peers were planning their retirements, I began a whole new career. It was the stuff of my dreams, becoming a professor of education at my alma mater, Rowan University. Full circle, indeed. But there was one more rainbow. Unexpectedly, when I wasn’t looking, I fell in love, again.
After divorce, I spent seven years living alone, loving my solitude. My everyday life was calm and peaceful. I felt free from the tedium of relationship building. I told friends I was liberated from the “constant, never-ending negotiation of everything”. All decisions were my own. No debates. No battles. No recriminations when expectations were not met. I was living in my head, my heart fully protected behind strong walls. I constructed these walls, brick upon brick, with mortar from hardened tears; my wall that sealed off any intent to love again. But God had other plans.
Paired Swans Form Strong Lifelong Bonds
Don was my best “guy-friend” in college. We had many classes together, Astronomy, being a favorite. Our professor held evening outdoor classes, affectionately dubbed “Star Parties”, where we cuddled together to keep warm while identifying constellations in the wintry night sky. Along with other friends, we met for lunch almost daily. In our senior year, he took me to the prom. After graduation, there were a few get-togethers, getting caught up with the latest news, but soon after, we went in different directions. I sprinted toward new adventures in the west. He remained in southern New Jersey.
If Separated, Bonded Swans will Return to Familiar Places to Reunite
Four decades later, fueled by faith, my daughter and I returned to New Jersey. A reunion celebrating my return brought the ol’ college gang together again. We gathered at my new condo. I’ll never forget the moment Don walked up my driveway. My heart did flipflops and I couldn’t breathe. The sparks flew. It was electric, but not shocking. There was a knowing, so clear, so comforting. We talked all evening. Then emails flew back and forth. How did we miss those cues so long ago? Photos from our college years, invariably showed us standing together, shoulder to shoulder.
Reconnecting with Don felt as normal as the rising sun. My nomadic heart felt grounded, eroding my wall of autonomy. But did it dissolve entirely? No. Even with cracks in my fortress, it was not easy for me to allow someone into my life. And what about Don? Did he have walls of his own to conquer? There is the magic of loving and then there is the business of living. I doubt if swans ever need to negotiate a division of labor. I wondered if two histories, formed 3000 miles apart, can live harmoniously side by side. A second time-around romance has new mountains to ascend.
Cracks to Let in God’s Light
I read somewhere that God gives us cracks so that his light can shine through. In this new love, I occasionally felt in over my head. The old urge to retreat returned. Yet, I believed in God’s plan for us. Going out on faith, there came a time when I asked Don to kneel with me to pray. It was not an eloquent prayer; but an earnest plea asking for help, petitioning God’s light to shine through the cracks in this relationship. Then we pledged a commitment to find the courage to face and to resolve our issues. By asking for God’s presence in our love, the bond already foraged was now deepened with new strength. We made time to discuss, to consider another point of view, to understand and most importantly, we found time to dance.
Adult swans, crowned with pure white feathers begin a courtship that resembles a dance, a ruffling of feathers. They touch beaks to kiss, their necks forming a heart.
Don and I are snowbirds. Migrating south each winter, we enjoy retirement life with flocks of our fellow baby boomers.
Here in The Villages, Florida, we frequent the town squares where any night of the year live bands play the music of our youth. We hop in our golf carts, tootling alongside cotton candy sunsets, to dance under the stars. Flocks of fellow baby boomers sway to songs like “Only You” by the Platters and “You Belong to Me” by the Duprees. We are transported back to a time when love waxed eternal. Yes, we are in our senior years, white-haired and wrinkly. But there is vibrant love. Faces pressed together, couples sing the familiar lyrics to each other. I see love in full display. I see the forever bonds that have tested and survived. They have weathered storms, outlasted personal ordeals and survived mutual heartbreaks. I see the creases in aging faces as portals where God’s light entered. When Don and I sing to each other while dancing, I am awed by the power of love. A heart that was once stilled, now has that bounce.
Every relationship, romantic, friendship or familial, has its cracks. What feels impossible to resolve can be overcome by asking for God’s presence. I can only wonder what might have been in my marriage had we faced our trials with divine light. Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet faced pride and prejudice.
We are not alone. Once united, our spirits imprint to each other. Even in death, the bond is not broken. I see Kathleen at her park bench, bonded in this life and the next. I see inspiring courageous love. Where there is love, there is life, the power of the universe.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20