17 September 2014

I held him in awe then and today

On the far left is an image from nineteen years ago and on the right is an image from earlier today. There are a couple of things in common with the two pictures - the subjects are the same, a father and son (me and The Boy), and I am in awe of him in both.

Nineteen years ago, I held this newborn baby boy, wondering p, as you can see, what it was going to be like to be a father to him. Our girls had come first and the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML knew from girls. No need for an owners' manual with them. The Boy brought a whole new set of opportunities for us to learn new things as parents. As I held him that day, looking at him in awe and wonder, I tried to imagine his life would be like. More than anything, I wanted it to be a good one, where he would grow up happy and be able to choose well in this life.

Today, I found myself holding him and once again, looking at him in awe as he began his two year missionary assignment. He's a hair or two taller than me now, so I certainly wasn't cradling him line when he was a baby. I did wrap my arms around him and held him tightly as I said, "See you in two years." 

Our curbside goodbye at the Missionary Training Center was, by design, brief. Think of it more like a drive by shooting, but with brief hugs instead of bullets and swarms of missionaries approaching your car to take the luggage instead of a couple of thugs looking to jack your ride. The young men who assisted us with The Boy could not have nicer. They were sensitive to us as parents but more importantly, quickly helped out The Boy at ease. That said, they got things moving fast and before you knew it, they were walking our Boy off. It was probably better that way. Turns out, I'm an ugly crier.

As we drive away, I could hardly breathe. Not out of fear for him, but because of how much I felt I would miss him. I began to breathe again when I heard my wife say, through her own tears, "He's going to be okay." She's right; he will be okay - he'll be more than okay.

Right now as I wind down my day, I'm thinking of my son. It'll be good to get his first email. We'll rest a bit easier at that point. I'm realizing, eight and a half hours into this, that parents of a missionary have some adjusting to do just as he does. We'll get this figured out.

One last thing, I know many of you who have taken a virtual seat on the sofa here in the Den are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and that this whole process may seem mighty peculiar. I suppose it is but I am so honored to share this experience with you. Your support today through various social media outlets has been amazing. To all of our friends, thank you for the love today. Thank you.

15 September 2014

Bags

Two years in three bags
If you've ever wondered if it's possible to pack, literally pack, two years worth of living into two checked bags, each weighing 50 lbs. or less (thanks, fascist airline baggage weight limits), I am here to report that it is indeed possible. The image to the right shows The Boy's life for the next two years, packed into those three bags. It's all in there. Suffice to say, there's not a lot of room for extras in there. Can I just say how good it is that he wasn't going to some place with a some harsh winter climate?! We'd have been done for if we were packing all manner of coats, etc. It's a good thing mosquito netting and industrial-strength insect repellent packs in a compact way.

It's here. What began nineteen years ago with his birth is now here. Like the lyrics to the late John Denver's song 'Leaving On A Jet Plane', his bags are packed and he's ready to go (I can't be the only one who can't get over the irony of the fact that Denver died in a plane crash, am I?). He was set apart as a full-time missionary tonight (read more about that HERE in his mission blog. He's no longer The Boy. He is Elder Lyons.

Not only is it here, it's real. He's been saying good-bye to friends all day. He's turned over his phone to us. He's turned off his music. He leaves tomorrow for six weeks of intense training to ready him for his life in Mexico. He's getting in the 'zone' tonight. He knows his life is changing.

We can't wait to see this unfold. The next two years are going to be an adventure. I'm just glad we've got another day with him before it all begins. I'm even more grateful for the nineteen years of adventure he's already given us.

Godspeed, Elder Lyons.

14 September 2014

Bonds of brotherhood, with a hallucinatory aside

Willowbend Country Club, Mashpee, MA
As a part of The Boy's Farewell Tour, he spent his last 'civilian' Saturday at his favorite place - a golf course. A great friend of his and golf teammate was golfing in a match up on Cape Cod and asked The Boy to serve as his caddie. Not wanting to miss a day with The Boy, we joined him, his buddy, and his buddy's parents, who are wonderful friends, for a day on the Cape. Well, let me clarify, yes, we were on the Cape, but we saw no ocean, unless you count the bay that meandered its way through the golf course.

It was a beautiful day. It had been threatening to rain, but in true quixotic Mother Nature behavior, no rain appeared until we began the drive home. This was a fun match because we were able to follow the golfers the entire time. We never had that opportunity during The Boy's high school golf team career. Watching The Boy act as caddie to his friend was a kick. Seeing them interact and listening to them joke and talk 'smack' on the three hour drive up to the Cape reminded me of how powerful the bonds of friendship can and should be. As men, we are typically rather reticent to acknowledge just how powerful those friendships are. To do so, we've been taught, somehow mars our masculinity. This is unfortunate. I've seen how good the influences of friends have been on my son. The examples of his friends is one of the reasons he is embarking on his mission in just a few days. I've seen him doing things to help his friends. I've seen him grow frustrated and saddened by some of the choices his friends made. I've seen him make a difference in his friends' lives.

As I listened to these two yak it up on the drive yesterday, and as us four parents laughed and, on occasion, rolled our eyes, I thought of the friends I've had with whom I shared experiences. Some of these friends have been in my life for close to forty years. Some a shorter time, but I am fortunate to call them friends. I'm mindful of what their examples mean to me. My life is better for friends, near and far, who have influenced me for the better. I hope I've done a little of the same for them.

So it was a good day yesterday, but it was long. I'd woken up, as per usual, way before any normal human being so as we began the three hour drive home, I was fighting to stay awake and lost. Fairly early into the car ride, I was out. Apparently I missed a whole new edition of the boys' story telling but I gave them fodder when I woke up. I must have been out because as I felt the car stop, I awoke completely unaware of where we were. I looked around, saw a log cabin-esque gas station and watched my friend fly out of the driver's seat and into the gas station as if he was on fire (as it happens, he kind of was - his need to go to the bathroom was fiery). I suddenly loudly blurted out, demanding, "Where are we? Where is K going? Wait....where are we?" I genuinely had no idea where we were. It took me a bit to get my bearings but I heard four people howling in laughter watching me try and figure out why we'd stopped at an oddly-themed gas station in Sturbridge, MA. I'm sure it's a lovely place but in my tired, hallucinatory state, I'm not sure I'm the best spokesperson for it. I'm still trying to understand why I bought a liter of Coke Zero there. Or why The Boy insisted I buy him Strawberry Quik. That's just not right.

11 September 2014

On 9-11...13 years later

Today marks the 13th anniversary of the attacks on New York City, Washington DC, and the psyche of not just the United States, but the world in general. It is also the day when America's war on terror began as a 757 slammed to the ground in Pennsylvania after a group of passengers and crew gave their lives, fighting to stop what surely was to be another attack on Washintton DC. 

It hardly seems possible that it's been 13 years. As I sat in my office in midtown Manhattan today, the events of 13 years ago were not far from my mind. I thought of the thousands of innocents slaughtered that day. I thought of how those events changed the world. This is a reverent day for me. Allow me to share some excerpts of comments I made when I spoke in Church on the 10th anniversary of the attacks:

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was an unusually bright, clear late summer day in New York City.  The images of those brilliant blue skies are seared into our collective memories; however, now we remember the smoke that choked that blue sky.  We remember the image of a plane slamming into the now-fallen World Trade Center.  We remember images of people jumping from the burning towers in order to escape the roaring flames.  We also remember the pictures of firefighters and police personnel who ran into the towers in an epic, valiant struggle to save their fellowmen.  We are haunted by the heroic words uttered by a passenger on board United 93, "Let's roll!" as those few passengers decided to stop the terrorists from hitting yet another target.


The terror of that day, ten years ago, is still fresh for so many of us.  It is an event that touched us all and it is a defining moment in not only American history, but world history.  In the days following these horrific events, our nation came together in a way that many said had not been since World War II.  I remember standing in our front yard in our home in California with our neighbors as we joined our fellow countrymen in a national moment of prayer.  It was as if our nation was seeking spiritual comfort as a whole in those dark days after the attacks.


That sense of unity and desire to seek spiritual comfort as a nation has abated in the ten years since that unforgettable day.  Our nation has found its way back to its divisive ways.  In his first official blog post printed earlier this week in the Washington Post's "On Faith" column, President Thomas S. Monson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said, "Sadly, it seems that much of that renewal of faith has waned in the years that have followed.  Healing has come with time, but so has indifference.  We forget how vulnerable and sorrowful we felt.  Our sorrow has moved us to remember the deep purposes of our lives.  The darkness of our despair brought us a moment of enlightenment.  But we are forgetful.  When the depth of grief has passed, its lessons often pass from our minds and hearts as well."


The Scriptures are rife with examples of how we, the children of a loving, caring Heavenly Father, have forgotten our Father and the lessons of lives time and time again.  The Book of Mormon is especially illustrative of this cycle of forgetfulness but it also shows our Father's consistent, loving commitment to us. In his blog post, President Monson continued, saying, "Our Father's commitment to us, His children, is unwavering.  Indeed He softens the winter of our lives, but He also brightens our summers.  Whether it is the best of times or the worst, He is with us.  He has promised us that this will never change."


In Midtown today, it appeared that many have forgotten that fateful day. Somehow getting a picture with the Naked Cowboy seemed more important. As I walked to Penn Station, I happened upon an older couple who clearly hadn't forgotten. On the lapel of her jacket was a large picture button emblazoned with a black ribbon. It was clear that the young man in the picture was their son and he'd lost his life day. His name, although unknown to me, was read today, I'm sure, as were the names of all the other victims. They are not forgotten. 


May we never forget.