When first you saw your daughter, you said, ‘It is all so strange! That new little thing seems quite unconnected with me.’ But at the breast she quickly bound you, and soon your whole life was centred on her. Parted from her, you relaxed into coma. I became a background figure, noticed occasionally for refreshment.
When your son came, he of course occupied the focus; but he was no supplanter of his sister, and she no discarded fondling. You made room for both; and they, very soon, for each other.
Over their upbringing, how we planned and wondered! This food, should it be, or that? This routine, or that? This toy, this book, this parental attitude, this school, or that? Every move was a dangerous experiment, fostering growth or checking it, leaving perhaps a permanent scar. Dreadful the thought that we, through ignorance or unwitting failure of character, might be crippling those young spirits for a whole lifetime.
Suddenly death threatened our daughter. Twelve years she had grown from a microbe inside you, a mere parasite, to become a bright young human individual, hopefully learning with laughter and tears the high art of womanhood. But now, through sheer chance, death or madness might this very day destroy her. She suffered, we were helpless, the surgeon’s knife alone could save her. We shall not forget that day. We shall not forget seeing her, when it was over, her head turbaned in bandages, so weak, so white, so unexpectedly beautiful; and still herself.
Soon, bewilderingly soon, the two were in turn done with schooling, and freed at last from our close care. Each now must try for a foothold in a crumbling, a catastrophic world. But then the war claimed both; her, for the embattled metropolis; him, for the sea. We shall not forget his going. With untried strength he set out to face the horror that the elders had made. When his ship was sunk, and he, among the few survivors, was taken from the water, no mystic message told us. And when at last we learned of it, we went about our affairs unchanged; but when we thought of him in the water, it was with bated breath. We were awed, and vaguely shamed, by our continued good fortune in a tormented world. Where millions are struck down, those who are spared shudder.
The two live on. They are no longer our children, but a young woman and a young man, formerly our children, now our junior fellow citizens, our loved and respected and perplexing friends. Much, of course, we have still in common with them; but the years prise us ever apart. In trivial ways, and perhaps sometimes more deeply, we may still and gladly help. We can write letters, send books and fruit and pipes. We keep at least a home, for their rest and healing. But in the more fateful ventures of the spirit the two are beyond range of our helping. Formed in part by us, they are yet creatures of a world strange to us. Throughout their minds, your mothering and my fathering are a deep-written, an inerasable palimpsest; but over and over that archaic script truths not of our teaching, values not of our preaching, and maybe errors not ours, are strongly superscribed. And so, though for us the two are for ever our children, yet also they are strangers.
We peer anxiously into their futures. They make their alien choices, and we dread the issue for them; as the hen for her swimming foster-brood. Could we but teach them the skill for living as once we taught them skating, that they might as surely surpass us in life as on the ice! But for living in tomorrow’s world what lore have we? Perhaps their alien choices are in fact sure and finished strokes in an art beyond us.
So it is with the world. With bated breath each generation fears for its successor. Yet the world goes on; belying equally the forebodings of the old and the hopes of the young, flowering ever with unforeseen disaster and with strange glory.
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University of Adelaide
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Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54