“In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be we are.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson
I remember when you were born — a tiny, ruddy-faced newborn. As I sat in the hospital bed cradling you, your hand would reach out and five delicate fingers instinctively wrapped around one of mine. And we brought you home and you were ours, not yet a part of the outside world — our perfect secret, bundled tight in a swaddle, safe and asleep. A brand-new life in a used crib and a home overflowing with awe, exhaustion, and love.
Somewhere between the last violet streaks of sunlight and the sliver of the rising moon, I would take you for walks around the neighborhood. Up and down the big hill and past the old school and fields where you’d crane to see the bigger kids playing ball and your sandy-gold whisps of hair would curl and tussle about in the breeze. It wouldn’t be long before you’d be among them, joining the chorus of shrieks and hollers, running furiously with the others to keep up or chase or get away.
But for now, we go past them, through the woods, and past the turnoff of the dirt road to the little pond. You’d skip rocks and the dark ripples would meet your feet at the water’s edge, then I’d see the light of the stars reflected in your eyes as you chased fireflies in the clearing, and I couldn’t remember my life without you or why God blessed me with such a priceless gift.
Sometimes there were skinned knees or hurt feelings or the quiver of your frowning lips foretelling the tears to come.
But those long days couldn’t hide the short years. And your dad taught you how to bait a hook, throw a sinker, and always wear high socks. We took you to the cemetery and told you about what your great grandfather did in the War and what it means to be a man.
You’d ask about birds and trees and we’d find the best ones to climb and you were afraid to come down but you did.
You learned about Dylan, Robert Johnson, Elvis, and Otis Redding. We watched Cool Hand Luke, Casablanca, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. And we read The Wizard of Oz and Treasure Island and Huckleberry Finn. And you wanted to be a cowboy and a spaceman, and an explorer and I said you could be all of those things.
But your father and I can’t keep you all to ourselves and you will meet a world hungry for the innocent to feed to the cynics. And I can’t prepare you for a world that is changing so fast that I can’t possibly know the challenges you’ll be faced with. I can look today at men who value their principles and values as cheap as a dirty penny but will easily steal the change out of your pocket. And people on television who make a sport out of human misery and suffering and can sleep at night because it pays the bills. And a class of people who would rather spitefully mock those they disagree with than understand. And those who think they are morally superior because they were born to the correct parents and went to the right school and said all the right things and nodded at all the scripted quips and applauded the right shows.
I cannot protect you from that world, but I can try to prepare you for living in it. You were raised not with everything but enough things. You know the value of making a dollar and of giving it away. You know both the effects of man’s kindness and virtue and the humbleness of man before His grace and forgiveness and that wisdom is a greater pursuit than novelty. There is no shame in asking for help and nothing more satisfying than doing it yourself. You are of this world, but you needn’t be a slave to it.
As the summer is tucked away into the long shadows of fall, our walks allow me to catch glimpses of people who sit at their table sharing meals, teaching their kids similar lessons, and finding their way through a time that seems to grow more chaotic, fevered, and empty. We live in a country in which we have so many ways to connect with each other, yet we feel so disconnected. Here are little platoons fighting for existence in an environment made so hostile to families, prosperity, and life. But perhaps that is by design: communities thriving in their self-determination and sustainability have no need to be controlled (protected!) by an overseeing government. We are the threat they warn us about.
When you are old enough to understand why we didn’t just escape for a life away from the disorder and didn’t take one of those big trains or planes and abandoned the world that was engulfed in the flames of its own creation, I’ll say this: it was because you, and someday your children, will be of this world, but you must not be made a slave to it. Because the strong have a duty to protect the weak; the righteous to fight the unjust.
I think about those moments in the small, quiet hours and the darkness hides my uncertainty of whether to bury my face in my hands or throw my head back in bitter laughter that it all has to end — because I’ve done what I could to make you self-reliant, courageous, and truthful. That someday I’ll reach my hand out and you won’t need to take it. But it will always be there, nonetheless.
“May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young”
—Bob Dylan, Forever Young
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I reflect occasionally on that line in Dylan's song "climb on every rung." Experience and enjoy every day of life sure, but as a parent the meaning is far more. Formation, habits, discernment, truth and love are The Way to the stars and can only be achieved one rung at a time. And if as parents, we stop climbing one rung at time, so will our children follow. Thank you for such an elegant reminder!
Well done! I can sense the bittersweet in there. However, it sounds like you and your husband did a good job.