“She responds to the ape’s show of affection, but always allows the animal to initiate the actions.”.

It’s not a new video. Jane Goodall, effortlessly elegant in the Serengeti, is with her team releasing an ape back into the wild. The animal exits the cage, then turns back to hug a young woman in the group. Steps away from freedom, the ape returns to the cage, jumps on top of it, and shows her backside to Goodall. The famous anthropologist stands still, accepting the display from her simian friend. After a few seconds, the animal turns to the silver-haired woman and embraces her. Goodall returns the hug and holds on until the ape parts from her. Only then does Goodall allow her surplus of emotion to surface, trailing her left hand over the ape’s back to caress her fur.

Though I have seen this clip before, I am struck anew by the respect and understanding Jane Goodall demonstrates. She responds to the ape’s show of affection, but always allows the animal to initiate the actions. It is easy to imagine the depth of Goodall’s emotions on the release of an animal for which she has cared, yet she is painstakingly careful not to impose her own feelings on the creature. Moved by this exceptional display of restraint, I sent the video to my children. My oldest will be a senior in college and the younger one will be a freshman. For the first time, I will live without them in a house that for some time has seemed too small and which will soon echo with the emptiness left behind by my two grown children.

Recently, my son has become even more affectionate than usual. Though he has always been demonstrative, he is exceptionally cuddly of late. The other day, he stopped me in the upstairs hallway and collapsed his 6’3” stature onto my 5’2” frame. We stood, clutching, in the hall for long enough that a sense of well-being blossomed in my heart. Not long ago, our hugs had a reciprocal silhouette, with his little head pressed against my heart. Now, it is I who can hear the thump, thump in his chest when we hold each other.

Like Goodall, I am careful to be respectful of my son’s autonomy. Though I could easily hug him all day long, I try to allow him to be the initiator. He is leaving, after all, and I don’t want him to have the sense that I will be grasping his ankle and dragging behind him as he strides towards his dorm room on check-in day. It’s hard not to oodgy oodgy his cheeks the way my Grandmother used to do to me. It’s torture not to kiss him hello and goodbye every time he leaves the room, even if it’s just to get a snack or go to the bathroom. Each tiny goodbye has a resonant poignancy that makes my heart tighten. Just today, he was singing a song in his room and I nearly cried thinking about how empty the house will seem without him crooning in it. When my daughter left for college, three years ago, I used to joke that I would run into her room, sing at the top of my lungs, then run back into my room and yell, “Hey, keep it down in there!” Now there will be two silent rooms upstairs and no child to spontaneously grab me for a hug.

So, like Jane Goodall, I hold on while I can and carefully follow the lead of the sweet beasts who are soon to become free of me. I cannot follow them where they are going. It is their adventure that begins now and I will be left behind at the compound with arms full of hugs, a mind full of memories, and a heart full of love. I only hope I can demonstrate the grace, restraint, and loving respect of Jane Goodall.

“So, like Jane Goodall, I hold on while I can and carefully follow the lead of the sweet beasts who are soon to become free of me.”

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Author: Amy Appleton

Amy resides in Washington DC, where she participates in multiple writing groups and workshops. She has written various articles for national and local publications and is currently working on a collection of connected short stories. Amy received her BA from Wesleyan University and her MA in English from Georgetown University. A mother of two, she loves to swim, bake, and sing, though not necessarily at the same time. View all posts by Amy Appleton

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