Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Thinking a lot about this one today. He's so close to setting out on his own and yet still so much a kid. Age 17 is the bridge of a dichotomy, the bridge between being a child and being an adult. He's just a few weeks from officially stepping onto that bridge but this past year, he's seen far beyond the other side of it and approaches with a wisdom that is both comforting and appalling.
I remember ages 16 and 17 so well. It was the most confusing, tormenting time of my life. I experienced far more true problems both before and certainly after age 17, but without the guidance of those more wise than myself, the trials were much more dramatic! At 16 and 17, my guidance and wisdom came from inside and from those who agreed with the wisdom inside me! So confusion and torement ruled. But looking back, some of my best memories are from that time. Some of the strongest bonds I'll ever have in my life were forged. Even those relationships that have become memories themselves are the easiest to fall back into when I make a reconnection. After all, these people were with me when I made what were probably the most embarrassing or unintelligent "informed" decisions of my life and if they weren't my counterpart, they were living in tandem with me with their own embarrassing, unintelligent "informed" decisions. We survived 16 and 17 and we did it together. And that's what makes it such a formidable part of life. The together part. The power of the relationships.
While I would prefer that he be a little (a lot) smarter than I was about where he seeks wisdom at this stage of life, I still want Caelan to experience the together part of it. The power of the relationships. The kids in our community have dealt with far too much of the sudden, senseless end to these relationships. They've been thrust into tragedy so much between the loss of friends (some of them losing brothers and sisters) to cancer, alcohol, and automobile accidents. Saturday night, a horrible car accident added another tally to the column. I believe it's number 9 in the past 18 months. It was number 6 during just this school year. These tragedies have left us in deep, raw, tearful conversations about love and kindness and forgiveness and faith. He's seen far enough beyond the other side of the bridge that he has a wisdom and understanding of these things far beyond his years. There is great comfort in knowing he has a relationship with God and an understanding that life is about others, not yourself, something that I didn't bend to until I was 24 and staring down at him in an incubator in NICU. But the appalling part of seeing so far beyond the other side also has to do with wisdom and understanding. Sunday he said to me, "It's happened so many times that it isn't even a shock now. It's sad and tragic and all. But it doesn't shock us anymore. And it makes me realize I could be next." My heart sank when he said that. I've always had the knowledge that life is precious and tomorrow is no guarantee. But there is a huge difference between knowledge and understanding. I didn't truly feel the reality of it until I turned 40. He has it at 17. The heaviness that comes with understanding mortality is something that the parent in me wishes he could be protected from just a little bit longer. But as I've watched these kids, once again, work through their grief by sharing scripture on Facebook, and I think about how they still filed into the front rows of our church and stood shoulder to shoulder, singing, some of them with their arms held high like they do every other week when life isn't tragic, I know they're going to be OK. They are doing together. They have very powerful relationships. Caelan will still be able to look back in 20 years and say, "Remember the night we threw a chicken on Michael's face while he was sleeping?" (That really happened in our basement!) But he'll also be able to say that before he ever reached the bridge to cross over into adulthood, he had already begun to understand how to be more accepting and giving and forgiving and, most importantly, to look up instead of inside as he navigates through life. That's the stuff that the best, strongest relationships are made of. I know they aren't perfect and they are going to make mistakes. But together they are experiencing the stuff that most of us do over the span of many years, the stuff that bit-by-bit humbles you and turns your focus outward. They're doing it in months, not years, as kids, not adults. Through the experience of all the tragedy, there is so much potential for God to use these kids to do big things, to lead lives that make a difference. And I hope to be able to see what these relationships look like 20 years down the road.