When we arrived at the cabin early last summer, Sam and I, I noticed a nest in the tree out back. In it were two little birds--mostly bopping mouths--peep-peep-peeping for maternal attention. They weren't baby birds, really; they looked awkward and crowded in the not-spacious twig nest. They didn't look like they'd be there much longer; their need for the nest was clearly waning. I was charmed, sure, but my heart dropped a little with the irony. I was in the last few weeks of nest tending myself.
A few months earlier Sam had put in his papers to apply to serve a two-year mission for our church; his call letter arrived a few weeks later with his given assignment: Luanda Angola! Luanda Angola?! I was thrilled for and proud of him, of course, but my heart dropped a little with the unknowns. Later, when Sam went in to be immunized in preparation for his departure, our public health doctor in DC gave us both a scare with her sober, urgent warnings about disease and safety and other dangers. She warned Sam to do everything in his power to avoid Angolan hospitals. "That's definitely one of my goals," he deadpanned. Did you ask to go there? she asked, incredulous. (Is this okay with you? her eyes silently asked me.)
So we're there at the cabin and suddenly I'm wholly invested in these fledgling birds. I check on them several times a day, watch them out the window, talk about their progress, and reassure the nervous mama bird who's not too thrilled with my interest. Sam generously pretends he doesn't see through this transparent case of transference--I have now equated this little aging nest with my own future. A little too on the nose, definitely, but undeniably relevant.
Within the week the first fledgling is teetering on the edge of the nest, exercising his wings and practicing his adulthood. Then he's gone. The other one follows a day or two later: first standing, then inching along the branch and flapping, and then she vanishes, too.
It's an old trope, that nest story and the final fledgling flights. It's a metaphor that concentrates on the loss imbedded in change: the vanished but still vulnerable babies, the hollow and empty nest. The emptiness was literal, in this case--they never came back to that nest, not the mama or her babies.