When our daughter was a year and a half, she took her first chubby step toward leaving us and home behind. We were at a Greek festival in Wilmington, Delaware, and we’d had a fairly typical dinner with a toddler—some foods rejected out of hand, other foods enthusiastically embraced, consumed, rubbed in hair, on Daddy’s knee, and Momma’s dress. And we were very mobile. The same child who would copy our folded hands, say grace, and sit throughout a meal in her high chair at home, needed to take a stroll every two minutes whenever we ate in public. I made a mental note of our third walkabout, trailing stuffed grape leaves and moussaka, to see if other parents were wearing as much of their dinner as I was—they weren’t. When I crouched down to adjust one of her sandals, an accommodating golden retriever licked my face clean, and I’m pretty sure the dog winked at me, one parent to another.
Like a farmer in pint-sized overalls, my daughter measured the scope of her domain, making her way toward each corner of the blacktop, all the while trailing dad, her tiny, olive-oil covered hand wrapped around one of my fingers. But then something new happened, and my wife and I caught a glimpse of her launching into the fast approaching future. The festival band started to play, and she let go of my hand, and she never looked back. Instinctively, I followed her out onto the dance floor, but she didn’t need me. I was cramping her style, so I stepped to the sideline. For ten minutes she bobbed up and down, chattered with other small fry, and happily greeted people she’d never seen before.
At first my wife and I chuckled—look at her go! Look how independent she’s becoming. And then it hit us: look at how independent she’s becoming… Look at her go.
A rabbi tells this story: “I remember the first week I spent at college. I took the Baltimore & Ohio sleeper from Detroit down to Cincinnati. I had to register for courses, move into a dorm room, meet classmates, open my first checking account, buy textbooks, attend orientation, do homework—and of course, set the world on fire. There was no turning back. I remember sitting at my desk, watching the cars go by on Clifton Avenue, thinking how nice it would be to be back home, but deciding that since it was going to be like this for the rest of my life, I’d better get used to it. But I cried anyway—How could I have known that at that very moment my parents also held each other and wept? Why do people cry about everything that they have prayed for?” (Lawrence Kushner)
Around town and across the country this month, thousands of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and guardians will watch their little girls and little boys graduate from high school or trade school or graduate school. Where did the time go? Are they ready? Are we?
Last Saturday at Redeemer, 65 adolescent boys from Next One Up experienced their first annual retreat. This innovative Baltimore mentoring program engages ‘high-risk’ middle and high school students confronting significant barriers to achievement by providing long term mentoring and coaching in the classroom and on the field. The theme of the retreat was “Boys to Men,” and the program chaplain used an image from First Corinthians in his homily, as the retreat joined an exuberant Faith at Five service. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” He said, “We are committed to your childhood, to help you be boys now—playing, exploring, wondering, experimenting—so that when the time comes for you to put away childish ways, you’ll be ready. However challenging things may be at home or at school, you have a family here, and Next One Up offers you a hand at becoming the adults you were born to be. Not only scholar-athletes, with God’s help and ours, you’ll become men.” Around the altar, as boy after boy came to me for communion and blessing, it really did feel like all of us were graduating into something important and new.
Whatever you age, the commencement band has started its music. Are you willing to unwrap your fingers from some childish way?