Like Bats in the Starlight

I have mixed feelings about graduation season. The last time I saw my good dad was on the day we celebrated my college graduation and his final Father’s Day. After that, I was pretty satisfied to receive my last two diplomas in the mail.

But then my own children started graduating, and gradually I could find the bittersweet pleasure in it again. Milestones are interesting, at the very least, and one of my favorite parts of middle age is seeing the people I knew as infants becoming men and women. As tiresome as it is for them to hear us remark on how swiftly they’ve grown, this never ceases to be a source of wonder.

Last night, returning home after a couple of grad parties, I picked up my current book and ran smack into the following sparkly and timely nugget. Maybe it was the waning Strawberry Moon glittering through the trees right outside the window where I was reading that made me react awfully sentimentally to this image of the wandering soul:

To all in the village I seemed, no doubt,
To go this way and that way, aimlessly.
But here by the river you can see at twilight
The soft-winged bats fly zig-zag here and there—
They must fly so to catch their food.
And if you have ever lost your way at night,
In the deep wood near Miller’s Ford,
And dodged this way and now that,
Wherever the light of the Milky Way shone through,
Trying to find the path,
You should understand I sought the way
With earnest zeal, and all my wanderings
Were wanderings in the quest.

That one is “William Goode,” from Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

I would not be surprised at all if the two young women we celebrated yesterday fly straight and true toward their next milestone, more like goshawks than bats. If they do, they will enjoy such a view of the land and how it lies. The slow, deep beating of their wings may lead us all to wrongly assume their flight is effortless.

But if instead they spend some moments or months (or more) as bats and Milky Way seekers, I hope they do their zig-zag flying with earnest zeal. All families contain a bat or several, and generally I think the ecosystem is a better place for their presence in it—provided they don’t lose sight of the function of their flitting. As parents, it’s not so much the zig-zagging that makes us worry, as the fear that our kids will exhaust themselves before they satisfy their hunger.

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