The other day I was trying to describe what it was like for me when my daughter left for college to some acquaintances and one of them cut me off with, “Its empty nest syndrome. It happens to everyone.”
I felt robbed, and we all kept quiet because we had to find something else to talk about. I know that from the dawn of humanity, people have been sending their children off to college or its equivalents, so my experience wasn’t unique but at the same time it was special to me because it was my experience, and it was my first time.
Why are we so eager to box things up, label them and dismiss them? I know that in some ways it allays our anxieties, and we hope it decreases the amount of the unknown that we have to contend with, in a world that constantly throws the unexpected at us.
But what is wrong with new experiences or re-experiencing the old as if it was new, seeing the same things through fresh eyes? Why couldn’t my acquaintance let me talk about what it was like for me to send my daughter off to college, why did she have to short circuit it and dismiss me?
It made me think of the times that I had seen things as if for the very first time, or see the same old things through fresh eyes.
When I turned 45 and tried to renew my driver’s license, I failed the reading part of the test because I had become short sighted. I spent my birthday morning at the optometrist and was fitted with my first pair of eyeglasses, driving home on that sunny summer day, everything looked bright and clear, especially the edges of the tiny leaves on the trees. Everything was so sharp!
Another time, I was leaving Sam’s Club and was behind a Chinese family with a four-year-old boy, his grandparents, his parents and a baby sister. The four year old saw himself in the security television and became very excited. He pointed to himself, jumped up and down with glee and made faces for the camera. His family joined in his joy, a part of it, which made the experience richer for him. I couldn’t help joining in and imagining what it must feel like to see yourself on a TV screen for the very first time.
Some twenty years ago, my 23 years old maid came from a remote village in Nigeria to work for me in Lagos. A week after she arrived we crossed the bridge to Lagos Island, and for the first time in her life she saw the lagoon. She howled, ‘Ewoooooooooooooooooooo.’ She was both stunned and amazed at the same time. And I too, though I had seen the lagoon and the ocean a zillion times, I was able to see it anew and for the first time through her eyes.
It was the feeling that I had when driving on Ohio turnpike, my first fall in a temperate climate in 1993 and the Appalachian mountain abloom with the changing colors of leaves looked like a giant bouquet of flowers to me. I had quoted aloud, “To wonder is to worship.”
This is the feeling I get each year at the first snow, and each spring at the budding leaves, blooming flowers and the colorful birds. It makes me want to take my camera with me when I go on my walks. It is also the feeling of the hot sun on my skin when summer returns.
I want to remove ‘seen that, been there, done that,’ from my language, because have we really? And I want to be able to welcome everything that comes my way with joy as if I am seeing it for the very first time.
Feasts of Phantoms
a novel by Kehinde Adeola Ayeni
-- ISBN 978-0981393926Available your local bookstore, a host of online booksellers and directly from Genoa House.