The Art of Letting Go
Time is a peculiar concept.
Often, it seems to be a lethargic thing, moving in slow, tedious steps.
And then there are moments when one is suddenly struck by just how quickly the years have passed, by how grown a son is, how much of a man the boy has become.
Where did the years go?
They did not fade or vanish, they live in memory, in every line and curve of the child's face as he enters manhood, just as the past lives in him, as well, and the future. In most cultures, regardless of race or species or allegiance, the father hands down his wisdom, his skills, to his son, who in turn hands it down to his own son one day, and the father lives on in them, and through them.
It is no different for us.
Attachment is forbidden, it can lead to shadowed roads.
But there is distinct irony that I am only now, in this moment, aware of within that very rule. The Order abolishes any and all attachments, whether physical or emotional, disapproving of outside influences, but it is from within the very halls of this Temple that the rule is proved a sham.
Is a Jedi not attached to his friends, to the peers he grew up with in the creche and the apprentices he took classes with in the years of adolescence?
Is a Master not attached to his Padawan, above all others?
Fourteen years of my life has revolved solely and intimately around the boy my Master bequeathed to me on his deathbed, and I have come to love Anakin as if he were my own child, my own son.
Attachment is forbidden, but how could I have prevented it?
How could I have raised this child, this extraordinarily gifted, brilliant child, and not love him? How could I have watched him grow, nurturing and guiding, and not find that he had taken all of my heart and devotion when he was still just a boy?
I am, as he has told me on more than one occasion over the years, the closest thing he has to a father.
Having had no experience at fathering, nor at having a father's example to follow on the matter, I fear I have made many mistakes, handled situations poorly, reacted in the wrong way too many times to count.
It is a wonder that Anakin doesn't resent me more than he does.
Throughout our years together, particularly during the rough patches, I have often wished that my Master were here to offer guidance, to seek advice from him, but while Qui-Gon Jinn was a wise Jedi Master, he was not a father. I loved him as one, and he loved me as a son, but what Anakin needed was something Qui-Gon had no experience with and I didn't know how to be.
Qui-Gon would have had no experience to draw on for advice now, either.
"Confer upon you the title of Jedi Knight, the Council does," Yoda's voice was low and thoughtful, but not without a trace of warmth as he leaned forward stoically in his chair.
Many years ago, I heard the same words spoken to me, but the situation was much different.
I did not have a traditional Knighting Ceremony in the Temple with all the simple, but cherished aspects of the coveted ritual, my Master was not there to stand at my shoulder, full of pride and bittersweet emotion at our parting, his hand resting on my shoulder as I knelt before the Council.
Instead, it was only Master Yoda and I in a dark, empty room on Naboo, while Qui-Gon's body was prepared for his funeral pyre.
I am glad that Anakin will know better.
And not just for his sake, but for mine, as well.
The thought of not being here for this moment, of it not being my hand that would sever the Padawan braid from his hair, not being there to be the first to welcome him into the Order as a brother, as well as a son, is unbearable.
For the first time, I think back on my rushed Knighting, and I ache not only for my own loss, but for my Master's.
He should have been allowed to be there, to see the fruit of all the long years he'd invested in me, to watch everything that he had nurtured inside of me come to bloom.
"Anakin," Mace Windu spoke from his seat beside Yoda, staring at the young man kneeling in the center of the Council Chamber with the usual grim, hooded intensity that he'd been directing at Anakin since the day Qui-Gon first brought him to the Temple. "As a Jedi Knight, you will be sworn to protect the Republic and serve the Force, above all else. Are you prepared to commit yourself fully to this task?"
"Yes, Master Windu," Anakin replied seriously, inclining his head in a show of respect.
"Very well," Mace said, and gestured with his hand.
One of the young apprentices who attends to the Council stepped forward from the corner where she'd been standing perfectly still all through the proceedings, and held out the ceremonial dagger across the flat of her upturned palms as she came to my side.
Lifting the dagger, I let my eyes trace over it for a moment, feeling the history and the tradition steeped within the small metal blade.
Thousands of Jedi who had come before had either used this dagger to sever their apprentice's braids, or had it used on their own braid upon their Knighting. It was symbolic, and not without sentiment, for once this blade cut the strands from Anakin's hair, he would be joining their number, no longer my responsibility but my equal.
And he will have to stand alone.
The dagger feels strangely heavy in my hand, or perhaps it is my hand that seems weighted, as I turn to my Padawan who is kneeling just before me, facing the Council with his back to me.
His Padawan braid, decorated with colored bands to represent his accomplishments, dangled just behind his ear.
It's strange that such a small, thin little thing- just a bit of hair, really- could symbolize so much, but it does, and my hand moves to the base of the braid, at Anakin's head, running the length of it between my thumb and forefinger until I reach the frayed ends.
Anakin's hair has darkened a shade or two since boyhood, but it still shines gold in the light.
I can feel his heartbeat quickening with anticipation, he's been waiting for this day ever since he first set foot in the halls of the Jedi Temple, but for me I think perhaps it has come too soon.
He is capable, I know that well enough, and he has proven himself to be worthy of the title of Jedi Knight.
Praesitlyn, Nejja Halcyon saw fit to inform me, would have been lost without Anakin. My Padawan had come quite close to not surviving that conflict, but he'd been prepared to give his life to ensure victory for the Republic.
It is something that makes me both proud and sad.
The galaxy is a different place now than when I was a Padawan, and even the Order seems changed, though I cannot identify what it is that's out of place. Back then, it was a rare occurrence for an apprentice to be killed in the field, but with the Clone War raging around us, it has become common place, and the memory of Jabiim haunts us all.
Had fate been less kind, Anakin would have been lost there, as well, and we would not be here today.
I move the ceremonial dagger to the root of the Padawan braid, but I do not cut through it, something compels my hand to still in its movements, and suddenly I am afraid.
Afraid of the future, afraid of the unknown, afraid of setting him free and being alone.
Afraid of letting go.
I have kept him close, perhaps too close, out of a fear that is both irrational and instinctive, one that I cannot fully explain, even to myself. It was born out of the smoke and ash of Qui-Gon's funeral pyre, fed by dreams that would shatter as I awoke in bed, sweating and trembling.
To lose this boy would be to lose the person I love most in all of the galaxy.
There is no reason for such thoughts to seize me, no reason for the anxiety knotting in my chest. Anakin has proven time and time again that he can take care of himself, more often than not he's the one who has to rescue me, and yet I fear for him.
An indefinable dread stirs deep in the recesses of my heart, but it is just beyond my reach, lurking in the shadows.
Always in the shadows.
Anakin's soft murmur, tinged with concern, reaches my ears and mine alone, and only then do I realize that the others are watching me, having noticed my moment of hesitation.
The dagger is still pressed against his braid in my hand, and all are waiting.
I manage to smile down at my Padawan, who is looking at me worriedly out of the corner of his eyes. "It's nothing," I assure him, inwardly scolding myself for slipping on this day, of all days, during his moment. "I'm afraid I've gotten sentimental in my old age, that's all."
Long years of partnership tell me he doesn't quite believe that, but he doesn't push the matter.
Holding the braid tight, to minimize the pain when the hairs were carved off, I pressed the sharp edge of the blade to his hair, and began to cut, watching the braid came free from his head one strand at a time.
In a surprisingly short time, the last hair gave way, and I found the braid clutched in my hand.
Anakin reached up to his head, scratching at the spot where, for the past fourteen years, the braid had hung, and even without seeing his face, I knew he was grinning.
I should smile, I've had fourteen years to prepare for this day, after all.
Surely I should be ready by now.
But, in the space of a moment, when his braid fell away, I realize that I'm not.
It is a bittersweet moment, to see him finally achieving what he has dedicated his life to, the goal he's worked so hard to attain.
He is excited, eager to continue growing as his own person, an individual instead of half of a team.
I am happy for him, and more proud than he will ever know, but I cannot help feeling as if I am losing my place in his life. How does one accept that after fourteen years of making a child your life and world, everything suddenly moves in another direction?
Soon, Anakin would be packing up his things from the suite of rooms we shared, and moving into private living quarters, for the first time in our lives, we would both be living on our own.
He would be in the same building, perhaps even on the same floor, but it would be different now.
It is natural, I have been told- not by anyone in the Order, but by outsiders with children of their own, fathers and uncles and sons and brothers- for a son to bristle under the father's thumb as he reaches adulthood. The chasm that grows between them is normal, a single phase in the progression of the son leaving the father's home and striking out on his own, becoming his own man.
Sometimes it takes a while, years even, as the boy struggles to find his place outside of the father's shadow, but in time it always ends the same.
The son always comes home again.
But in order for him to find his way back to me, I first have to let him go, to give him the chance to spread his wings and discover what it was like to fly alone, without me hovering just behind and keeping a watchful eye. He would have to make his own choices now, make his own mistakes, and I wouldn't be able to intervene.
"Congratulations, young Skywalker," Yoda said, and there was a faint hint of a smile, albeit a weary one, as he nodded for Anakin to rise to his feet. "A Jedi Knight, you are."
"Thank you, Masters," Anakin replied, shoulders back and head held high, expression bright and eager.
The perfect image of a newly minted Jedi Knight.
We bowed to the Council together, then turned and strode from the Chamber. I let Anakin go first for a change, and chose to follow silently behind him out into the atrium as the doors closed behind us.
"It feels strange," Anakin declared, reaching up to mess with his hair again.
"You'll get used to it," I assured him, and was quite pleased with how steady my voice sounded as I resisted the urge to swat his hand away. "Once you start growing your hair out, you won't even notice."
"Just don't expect me to start growing a beard, all right?" Anakin retorted wryly.
"And hide that face?" I retorted smoothly, trying not to smirk as my eyes twinkled. "I wouldn't dream of it."
Anakin grinned, that smile that goes right up to his eyes, and I'm momentarily distracted at the sudden marveling realization that he has grown so tall I have to tilt my head slightly to look at him, and I wonder when that happened, and how I failed to notice until now.
"You're finally free of me," Anakin observed, and despite his joking manner, I caught a glimpse of what was beneath the jovial expression. "What are you going to do first? Find a youngling to lecture? Take flying lessons so you can actually get around the galaxy without me?"
"Amusing," I drawled flatly. "At least we know your wit hasn't dulled."
"You're one to talk, Master," he retorted.
That tile isn't mine to claim any longer, and we both know it, but I am touched by the gesture, recognizing it for what it is. Anakin has always been more subtle than he would have had me believe, and had I not once been a mischievous Padawan myself, he most likely would have gotten away with much more than I'd permitted over the years.
Laying my hands on his shoulders, I gazed at Anakin for a moment, my chest tightening. I blinked, trying to rid my eyes of the sudden wetness there, and decided that the lighting in the atrium must be brighter than it was in the Council Chamber.
"You have made me proud today," I told him quietly. "And every day that you've been my Padawan."
"Thank you, Master," Anakin replied, his voice lowering as it did whenever emotion was creeping into it. "I'll try my best to make sure that I continue to do so."
"I'm certain you will," I murmured, and somehow I knew that he would. Someday, perhaps not until after I had become one with the Force, he would make us all so very proud, and fulfill the destiny that he had been born for, that the Council had commissioned him to be trained for. "But know this, Anakin," I paused, swallowing past the lump in my throat. "No matter what failures or mistakes you might make down the road, I will always be proud to have been your Master."
"And I'll always be proud to have been your Padawan," he responded with heartfelt sincerity, and when I reached out to clasp his forearm, he ignored the gesture and pulled me into an embrace, causing a smile to grace my lips as I clapped him on the back.
It had taken me until today, I think, to really understand what Anakin himself had known for some time now, that he wasn't a child, he'd been a man longer than I'm willing to admit. This war stripped away the remnants of his boyhood, and his eyes are old now, like mine, and haunted.
I grieve for the loss of the little boy who'd clutched at my arm when I taught him how to swim for the first time in the Room of the Thousand Fountains.
And fear that I might not have done everything I could to prepare him for what the future has in store for him.
In the past, he would stumble and fall, but I had always been there to catch him, to help him up again and to carry him when he was unable to go on by himself.
Now, he would have to walk on his own.
And I would have to stand aside and allow him the room to do it.