In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Monday, December 26, 2011

Adios, Mi Querido Hijo

This has turned out to be one of the most bittersweet (more sweet than bitter, really) Christmas holidays I've ever had. As I write, our youngest son Colin and my wife Melany are on the road somewhere in Ohio or Kentucky, headed for Colin's new job as a box office manager at the Performing Arts Center at Lee College in Baytown, Texas, just across Galveston Bay from Houston (according to its official web site, Baytown's motto is "Where oil and water really do mix!"). I stayed behind to mind the fort and our critters (one big dog and one small cat), and so Colin could get into the car everything he has and needs to start out on his own. It's incredibly quiet here, and rather (all right, very) lonesome. I miss Colin and Melany very much already--and they've only been gone a few hours!

Less than a month ago Colin casually responded to an ad for this job, hardly imagining that it would lead almost immediately to an in-person interview and then an offer. Work in his field (arts administration) being so hard to come by in this part of the country, especially for someone just out of college, that Colin felt he couldn't let the opportunity go by. The sudden and dramatic change of life for him and for us is a daunting challenge indeed.

It's always hard for a parent to "let go" so a child can find his or her own way, especially when the way takes the child far from home into unknown territory. Home is familiar and welcoming and safe (or so we try to make it), but who knows what threats lurk elsewhere? Our natural desire and habit is to protect our children and provide for their happiness as best we know how. So, when the time comes that the needs and opportunities--and dangers--of adulthood finally call the child away from the hearth, we are torn with anxiety, even dread. Yet, we must consciously pry our own fingers from our child's arm and let him go along life's road on his own, where his dreams and his best judgment take him. We can only pray for his well-being, and sometimes carefully and gently offer whatever advice we might have from the well of our own learning and experience. We mustn't project our own fears onto him, nor presume to make for him the decisions that rightfully, and prudently, he should make for himself, whatever the consequences. This is the only way for the child to learn responsibility, the sine qua non of adulthood. Now we must only encourage and offer help--but not "bail out"--if and when things go awry, and even if life leads them to endure suffering for a time (which we will inevitably share). It's perhaps the last, perhaps most important lesson we can teach our children: how to be free. That's the only way our children can flower and be all that God intended and enabled them to be. And it might be the most important lesson that we, as parents, can teach ourselves.

Last night, before retiring for perhaps the last time as a permanent resident under our roof, Colin wrote a Facebook "thank you note" to his family and friends here in New York and elsewhere. I chanced to read it a short time later, before retiring myself--and then had trouble falling asleep for the tears in my eyes. Colin wrote that he has "an amazing family that has provided me with opportunity, love, shelter and support at all times, without hesitation, the blink of an eye, or a thought of doing otherwise." I can't express what that means to us as his parents (and the same goes for his brother and sister, I'm sure). All I can say is that Colin is an amazing son and as fine a young man as there's ever been. Of course, we feel much the same way about all our children, but perhaps this moment is more poignant because Colin is the last to fly our "nest" and leave Melany and I entirely "on our own." Since he returned home from college this past May, we've been blessed to get to know him in an especially deep and personal way. We've delighted in the company of a sensitive and thoughtful person always ready to discuss (and sometimes cross swords on) any topic that occurs to us, from religion and politics to movies and food. His sense of humor is matchless! Even our disagreements on things are mutually respectful and loving. Harmony and love within our family is something that Melany and I have prayed for constantly over the years, and God has granted us this fondest wish!

Sometimes it's easier for me to understand and accept things by putting them into a historical context. In this case, I'm reminded of the countless times during the 19th century when young people packed wagons (or sometimes just bags) with all they had, kissed their grieving parents goodbye, and set off on a road or down a river toward a new beginning in the West. All knew that the risks were at least as great as the opportunities. But what if their parents had successfully discouraged all these young pioneers from braving the dangers of the journey? Humanity might never have known the blessings that this great country eventually brought them. So, I'm persuaded that God must have the most marvelous plans for Colin, to lead him that far away into such an alien world as Texas!

May he bless you abundantly each and every day, son, and fill your life with joy (and bring you back home safely for as many visits as we can all manage!)!

Colin and his beloved nephew, Liam

No comments: