Christian was like my first child. Before him, I had not wanted to have a boy at all. I wanted a girl - and only a girl. Then Christian was born. My heart was changed instantly. Even now, I can't help but think of the little curly-haired boy who loved Michael Jordan and the film Space Jam so much that I had to hold my arms in a circle so he could slam dunk over and over again just like his sports hero did. As my nephew grew, I watched him become a teenager. Normally, we think of teens as sullen and moody, but what I will always remember Christian for is calling me on my birthday and not only wishing me a happy birthday, but telling me that he loved me. Those are not the words one tends to associate or expect to hear out of the mouths of teenagers, especially in regards to their relatives. I got off the phone, choked up, and told my wife. "My sister's raised a good kid."
When I graduated high school, way back in 1987, our graduating song was Billy Joel's "This Is The Time To Remember." I could not help but think of the chorus as I sat through my nephew's graduation ceremony yesterday. The chorus goes:
This is the time to remember
'Cause it will not last forever
These are the days to hold onto
'Cause we want although we'll want to
This is the time,
But time is going to change . . .
And we do. I can't help but relate the lines "These are the days to hold onto" with a parent holding a child's hand. As parents, we have to know when to hold onto their hands tightly and when to let go, even when we don't want to and aren't ready to. Before we left for the graduation ceremony and everybody was going out to the car, my sister held back and waited for my nephew to come downstairs. I caught a glimpse of her straightening his tie, talking to him, and then hugging him. I'm sure every part of her wanted nothing more than to stop that moment, to freeze time because it was whizzing by. My Mom once said that those little hand-prints that you complain about having to clean off the windows or the coffee-table are the very same ones you will miss desperately one day.
The time will come when my wife and I will have to let go. That little boy who tags along with me will be going on ahead of me and then leaving me behind to start his own life. And we will have to let him. No matter how much our hearts ache and our eyes fill with tears. He, like my nephew, will be filled with the over-sized ambitions of youth and the feeling of finally being free after graduation. This is as it should be.
Watching Christian walk up on that stage to get his diploma, I held back the tears that our little "Spark-plug" (his nickname from soccer when he was little) was now grown up. I feel I have blinked and, in that instant, so much time has passed. In her song "The Circle Game" Joni Mitchell sang of "being captive on the carousel of time" and of how "We can't return, we can only look behind from where we came." It's true. It will continue to be true. As Psalm 144:4 tells us, "Man is like a breath. His days like a passing shadow."
One of my favorite things this past year has been driving my son to and from school each day. I love talking to him and hearing him sing along to the radio as he rides in the back seat. When I told him how I'd miss this, he said, "Papa, you'll be taking me to and from school next year, too, you know?" Yes, but he will go from sitting in the back to the front, going from singing along in his sweet child's voice to remaining silent in a voice that is changing from childhood to manhood, and from talking freely to possibly sulking silently (though I hope not). He will not be the same. And I, like all parents, want to hold onto this moment, this fleeting, passing moment.
Congratulations, Christian! I'm more proud of you than you will ever know.