From All Things New
Our imagination so powerfully magnifies time, by continual reflections upon it, and so diminishes eternity for want of reflection, that we make a nothing of eternity and an eternity of nothing. This is a dangerous game. (Blaise Pascal)
Stasi and I raised three sons, three very boy-ish boys – every-puddle-must-be-jumped-in, every-tree-climbed boys. If Tom Sawyer or the Lost Boys from Peter Pan had grown up in a real family, they might have been at our house. Our home was filled with the whoops of an American Indian war dance or the fierce sounds of light sabers as young Jedi fought for the galaxy. Come bedtime we had a ritual for years and years where I would lie on the floor of their shared room and tell them stories about the Wild West. Those tales always began, “Once upon a time there were three cowboys named Sam, Blaine, and Luke….”
Our boys had something very rare in this world – they had a childhood.
I can still remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach the night before Sam left for college. Our little clan had gathered in the family room to pray, each of us knowing some sort of ending was upon us, each of us not wanting to name it. We sat in a circle on the floor – the floor that had held so many Christmas mornings and wrestling matches, the floor where we welcomed our first dog as a puppy and also said good-bye to him in old age. I was trying to find something to say; the words of Bob Cratchit kept coming to mind, at the loss of Tiny Tim: “But however and whenever we part from one another, I am sure we shall none of us forget this first parting that there was among us.” I tried to mumble a few words about, “We love you, Sam.”
Luke simply threw himself on his oldest brother’s lap, acting out what everyone felt.
I hate good-byes. I really do.
Blaine would remain behind two more years; he and Luke were thick as thieves during that season. Then came Blaine’s turn to head off to college out of state. Luke was only a year into his high school sojourn, and I knew it would prove very hard and lonely; my father’s heart ached for him. So every morning I would wake before Luke and make us both a cup of tea (he loved tea). We’d share those early-morning moments in the kitchen, sipping tea, sometimes talking, sometimes just being quiet. Then we would pray together, and I would send Luke into his day. This was our ritual every morning for three years – tea and prayers.
As May of his senior year approached, I could feel a yawning pit opening in my stomach again, this time even bigger. I knew the morning was coming when we would have our last cup of tea. High school would end, summer would pass too quickly, and Luke would head off to college himself. These days would be over, forever. When Stasi and I returned home after dropping him off at the university he had chosen, we walked into an empty house. I went downstairs into Luke’s room, turned off the lights, and shut the door. An era had ended. Twenty-four years of life with sons at home, and in one moment the golden days of boyhood and family were gone.
The next morning I made just one cup of tea.
Like our shadow, the truth is always there; we don’t often look at it, but we know – life is a long series of good-byes. You’ve already said good-bye to your childhood years, and with them probably your hometown and the house you were raised in, not to mention your childhood friends. The best of us might hang on to one or two playmates from our youth, but catching pollywogs with Danny down in the creek just isn’t recovered through a Christmas card. If you had a beloved childhood pet, you have said that hard good-bye as well; I’ve had clients for whom it remained one of their life’s greatest wounds. Most of us said farewell to first sweethearts, feeling as though some golden part of our innocence was left behind with them. Most of you have left your first apartment after being married and all the sweet memories there.
If you stop and think about it, you’ve said a lot of good-byes in your life so far. And fight it as we may, we know down deep that many more are coming. I think that’s why I hate even small good-byes, like when the kids leave after a Thanksgiving visit. Stasi said to me last time, “This is our life now – saying good-bye.”
Oh, friends – this is why hope is so very precious. It is our lifeline, the anchor of our souls. And this is why it is so important to know where our hope is, to help it land in the right places.