Thursday, August 31, 2017

‘On Children’ (from the ‘The Prophet’) by Khalil Gibran


Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.


You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Some thoughts…

On the Poet: Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) was a Lebanese-American poet best known for The Prophet, a collection of twenty-six poetic essays that he considered his magnum opus.

On this Poem: The premise of The Prophet is that the prophet – Almustafa - is finally returning home, after having stayed in the city of Orphalese for twelve years. Before he boards his ship, he’s surrounded by the townsmen who crave one last audience with him, and put forward questions about the human condition. ‘On Children’ is his response to a mother who entreats him – “Speak to us of Children”.

On a Personal Note: While Gibran’s perspective was mystical, his writing is surprisingly accessible. This was a book that I loved as a teenager; one that didn’t baffle in any way. However this particular poem resonates more strongly with me now. Parenthood has had a way of elucidating vague notions that had floated, half-formed and half-understood, in my callow mind. Among the clich├ęd phrases that sounded like so much nonsense – ‘love till it hurts’. ?!? What hurts? And why? If it hurts, is it even still love? Cue in Time, the ultimate Prophet - even the simplest, sweetest, most drama-free relationships can hurt.

There is pain when the relationship changes from what we once knew it to be, growing
pains -

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.

There is the ache of uncertainty – not knowing what the future holds for those we love; but painfully accepting that things may not work out as we had assumed they would -  

…their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

Most assuredly, there is pain in letting go. Holding on was never an option. We were always meant to let go -

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

On an aside, both my sons left for college last week.

For eighteen years, I had the privilege of witnessing the unfolding of two beautiful human beings who somehow evolved from being bundles of pudge, and grins and unending questions to being two clever, kind-hearted young men who have grown in the most surprising ways. If it’s hard enough to say goodbye to your children, it’s infinitely worse when said off-spring are also two of your best friends with a sense of humor that is sometimes sarcastic, sometimes poker-faced; who sometimes share your interests, and sometimes draw you into their own young world; who are in equal parts in love with technology and are yet still awe-struck by the wonders of the natural world; who are way smarter than you ever were at their age but are still wounded by the many injustices of the world they live in.

And the one secret of successful parenting reveals itself: somehow, in spite of all our missteps, blunders, and errors of judgment along the way, the kids turned out okay after all. There was an over-watching Grace that amends and replenishes wherever we had failed to meet the mark -

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself…

It’s like we were just incidental to the process -

…The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Admittedly, there is a sense of relief in realizing that I’m no longer in the driver’s seat. My role is different now; but hey, at least I’m still along for the ride and it promises to be a joyous one -

Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.