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 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, the other 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.
If separated, swans will mourn the loss and return to familiar areas.
I see this lady, with her wide-brimmed yellow 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 returns to this bench each morning, sitting with her back pressed against a brass plate that is inscribed with a dedication to her late husband, Jim. In his lifetime, Jim was an ardent protector of wildlife in these natural settings. For years, they would sit there to watch herons, egrets and swans flourish in their own habitat.
Kathleen misses her husband. After more than fifty years of marriage, life without Jim is a deep ache. It has been said that the emptiest place in this universe is a lonely heart. But here, for a few sweet moments each morning, on this bench near their pond, Kathleen returns to find her Jim. Turning her head slightly to the right, she begins their “chat” by first thanking God for all this beauty. Then she tells Jim about her plans for the day, how she’s keeping up with household responsibilities and additionally, she offers up the incidental delights of life she knows he would enjoy. In the distance, across the pond, a great blue heron calls to his mate.
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 though. Fourteen years ago, 3000 miles from my hometown, I felt an undeniable yearning to return. Playing on the radio throughout each day I heard Michael Buble’s song I Want to go Home. It 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. Forgotten places like the thickly wooded Pine Barrens, briny backwater lagoons, the shore and acres of farmlands took up primary spaces in my heart. Alongside of my mounting nostalgia for home 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, now felt like a fully extended bungee cord yanking me back, with urgency. And somehow, I knew it was God’s hand pulling me homeward.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (Jeremiah 29:11 KJV)
It was the worst time to relocate. In 2006, the economy was on the brink of a free fall, yet I put my faith in God’s plan. It cost me dearly, financially, but my emotional income was high. I returned amid 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 circle of family and friends were 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 more. 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 nearly all our classes together. Astronomy was our 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. We met for lunch almost daily, along with our extended circle of friends. I recall so clearly, one sunny crisp afternoon. We were walking together after class. It was one of those spectacularly crisp October days, when the sun flashes through tall oak trees while red and gold leaves drift slowly to the ground. It was the kind of day in everything feel wondrously in order. As Don pivoted left to enter the student union building, he stopped abruptly, turned to me, and asked, “Hey Glor, want to go to the prom with me?”
“Sure”, I answered without hesitation.
Like the falling of autumn leaves, going to the prom with him would be the most natural thing in the world. In the next two summers that followed graduation, there were a few get-togethers to catch up on everyone’s news, but soon after, life pulled us in different directions. I sprinted toward new adventures in the west. He remained in Southern New Jersey. We lost track of each other. The years ticked by.
If Separated, Bonded Swans will Return to Familiar Places to Reunite
Four decades later, fueled by faith, my daughter and I returned to my Jersey roots. A reunion celebrating my return brought the old 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 evident. We talked all evening. Then the daily, and hourly emails flew back and forth. How did we miss all those signs so long ago? Each photo from our college years showed us standing or sitting together, smiling, clearly capturing a strong bond.
Reconnecting with Don felt as normal as the rising sun. Forty years after our first date, the prom, we had our second date. My nomadic heart was beginning to feel grounded. My wall of autonomy was eroding. But it did not dissolve entirely. Even with the crumbling of my fortress, it was not easy for me to allow someone into my orderly life. And what about Don? Did he have challenges of his own to conquer? There is the lightness of loving and then there is the heavy downbeat of living. I doubt if Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet had to negotiate a division of labor. I wondered, can two histories, formed 3000 miles, live harmoniously and find their side by side groove? A second time-around romance, even when you are lucky enough to fall in love with your best friend, isn’t always easy.
Cracks to Let in God’s Light
I heard that God gives us cracks so that his light can shine through. In this new love, I occasionally felt I was in over my head. The old urge to retreat to my fortress returned. Yet, I believed in God’s plan for us. We were not church-goers and we seldom discussed religion. But I knew we needed help. Going out again on faith, there came a time when I asked Don to kneel with me to pray. He seemed surprised, but together we knelt. 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 issues, to do the hard work of listening and finding resolutions. The bond we forged so long ago was strengthening. We made time to discuss, to have courageous conversations, and to understand each other. Hard work has its perks. We danced.
Gathering in flocks, swans migrate more than 1,000 miles.
Don and I are snowbirds. Like our kindred swans, we migrate 996 miles south each winter, where we gather with fellow retired baby boomers. Here in The Villages, Florida, every day is a weekend. We flourish here, frequenting the town squares any night of the week to hear live bands playing the oldies. We hop in our golf carts, tootling alongside cotton candy sunsets, to dance under the stars.
Adult swans begin a courtship that resembles a dance. Crowned with pure white feathers, they communicate by sounds and body movements.
Crowned with various shades of gray and white, we seniors flock together to this 55+ community. We enjoy the sounds from the early Rock n’ Roll years, especially the slow, romantic tunes. Love songs by the Platters and the Duprees transport us back to the buoyancy of our youth. They replay like a pleasant dream. But the love we generated during those dreamy years cannot claim the kind deeply bonded endurance soldered over decades of living. I see timeless love in full bloom. The forever bonds that have mustered up the courage to weather life’s storms are now expressed in faces pressed together seasoned with sweet kisses. And I see the lines on wizened faces as portals where God’s light entered, when it was needed most.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20 KJV)
Love is not for the feint of heart. It requires courage. I think of the courageous conversations that I should have had with my loved ones, so long ago. Tangled up in emotional knots and too proud or too stubborn to ask for God’s help, I missed opportunities. But once bonded, I believe it is never too late to be reunited, even in spirit. I often have conversations with my parents that I should have had when they were living. There are benches waiting, places where we can reunite. Like Kathleen and Jim, we chat. I tell them the little incidental delights of life I know they would enjoy, especially about their great grandchildren, and I say things I should have said long ago. I imagine Kathleen telling Jim things she neglected to say in years past, but it is never too late.
Love is a renewable energy. It powers the universe.
Heart swan photo from free images on pxhere.com