My middle son has set out on his own and fled to a faraway land. Okay he didn’t quite go it alone and faraway land is probably a stretch. He had accomplices; the family packed his plastic tubs and stack-able bed side table and box of extra-long dorm sheets and a year’s supply of granola bars (the ones in the green box – oatmeal – crunchy – his favorite) into a rented mini-van (Younger brother, “No one cool arrives at college in a mini-van.”) and set out. Faraway land? I’ll admit that while Mississippi probably doesn’t sound that foreign to many, when you drop off your son and it takes you almost 13 hours to drive home (in an uncool mini van), well, that qualifies as faraway land in my book, and that faraway land is now home to my precious son . . . and now? Now I am grieving.
Don’t get me wrong; I am thrilled for Nathan. His choice of colleges came down to three. One choice was at our doorstep, another in an even more foreign land – Kansas – and the one he chose, Delta State University, in Cleveland, Mississippi. From the moment we first heard of Delta State (shout out to Kathy Batenhorst, Rotary President extraordinaire), it clicked. After touring the campus with his dad in the spring, Nathan returned home excited and committed. Nathan’s choice has been confirmed on so many levels; the university’s president (President LaForge personally responded to a letter I wrote – another story for another time), the Director of the Aviation Department, and the alumni have all reassured that Delta is a special place indeed. My grieving has nothing to do with Nathan’s next step or even that he is so faraway. My grieving is absolutely self-centered.
My middle son, the one who can fill a room with his ever-present smile, is taking that next step. Yes, he will return for visits and will probably live at home a few more summers and I will cook all of his favorite foods and it will “seem” as if everything is normal but in reality, everything has shifted and there is no going back. If he puts off doing laundry until he runs out of clean boxers, well, he owns that now. (The boys have done their own laundry for years but of course I always came through in a crisis.) If he over-sleeps and misses a class, well, he’ll set the alarm the next time. And slowly but surely his need for me, for mom, will evolve, and it is for that shift and change I grieve.
For years we nurture and parent and support. We vicariously participate in their victories (when Nathan ran fast, I felt as though I was keeping pace) and we internally partake in their losses. Nathan will always be my dear, sweet, funny son–the one who always asks, “How was your day mom?” and wrote me silly cards and brought lunch to my office to surprise me–and our close bond is not suddenly dissolved by his venture to college; however, to not admit that our relationship has been affected would be folly. His college years will most likely include incidents that he’ll never divulge or at least not divulge until he’s 30-something and has kids of his own. He’ll develop friendships with others whom I’ll know only by name. He’ll succeed on his own and I have absolutely no doubt that he is ready. Me? It’s taking me a bit longer to accept this new reality but I’ll get there, and a recent conversation with Nathan is one of the reasons why.
Last week Nathan and I took a last-minute day trip to see my daddy. During a phone conversation a few days prior, my dad simply said, “You tell my Nathan to be careful out there in Mississippi,” and there was something in that comment that made me know Nathan needed to see his Papa face-to-face. So I took a day off of work and Nathan cancelled his beach plans and we drove 4 hours one way to deliver Cracker Barrel chicken and dumplings to Papa and Grandma. We ate in the Florida room (what many call the den), plates on our laps, and chatted then defrosted their freezer. Nathan gave Papa a virtual tour of his dorm via a laptop and then we hugged and turned right around to drive home. It was a good visit.
On the drive back Nathan started talking about life goals and how to know for sure and what if he misses something; he verbalized the conversation we all have with ourselves at one time or another. “What-if-I-choose-the-wrong-major/job/wife/husband” conversation. The big one – the “what-is-God’s-will-for-my-life?” talk. When I was Nathan’s age I had been taught that there was one will- one job, one place, one spouse, one whatever – and if, God forbid, I made the wrong choice on even the tiniest of issues, then my future was doomed or would at least be a duller version of what could have been. (I see this same thought process being applied to our political process and belief system, a list of dos-and-don’ts that can be checked off to ensure one is good to go. If not, well, you’re wrong.) The simplicity of scripture seems to have been twisted in order to fit our own choices or belief systems, a check-list of good or bad behaviors or beliefs.
My own thoughts on scripture have become far simpler as I age. In one’s zeal to get it right one may miss the simplicity right in front of one’s face.
I shared with Nathan the words of Micah 6:8:
He has shown you oh man what is good
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice
And to love mercy and
To walk humbly with your God.
That’s what I want for Nathan, period. It’s what I want for all of my sons and my daughter-in-law and grandchildren that may someday bless my life. What better words than these as my son transitions into life away from home. Regardless of the career he will choose to pursue – whether that career leads to a huge salary or meager means – is Nathan a man who will do justice? Does he have a true concern for peace with a genuine respect for people? Does he embrace mercy as a strength, not a weakness, in the way in which he forgives those who wrong him? Finally, does he walk humbly? Our culture has embraced arrogance as a virtue and strength, the exact opposite of the example of Jesus embodies.
Nathan listened and said, “Why have we made it all so complicated?” I ask my self the same question on a daily basis.
God’s will for Nathan . . . and for me? It’s really quite simple.