Monday, June 14, 2010

448 days, and counting...

Four hundred and forty-eight days ago
, we sent our oldest son to a wilderness program called Aspen. (You can read about that experience here and here.) From there he went straight to a college prep boarding school an hour away from our home, where he has been living for over a year. And Friday was his graduation. Yes, I said graduation. This is our son, the one who stopped caring about everything, and, in his own words, "was headed for an epic crash-and-burn."

Let me tell you how he did: He graduated with the highest GPA in the senior class. (It’s pretty hard to beat a 4.15 last term!) He was decorated with an honor cord for nearly every department in the school -- English, Math, Science, and Social Studies. He received three college acceptances, including one partial scholarship.

This creative, artistic, musical kid also surprised everyone when he won the Outstanding Science Student of the Year award. (Who knew?) I loved what they said when they presented the award: He not only mastered the material, but livened up the classroom, making it somehow “cool” to understand chemistry, and tutored other students with an energy and enthusiasm that were contagious.

At the graduation ceremony he also accompanied a singer on his acoustic guitar, playing a very cool Natalie Merchant song (remember her?). After that he stood tall, held his head up high, walked with confidence, and smiled as he picked up a very hard-earned thunderous applause. It was an especially large sum in a long string of parent paychecks I’ve been cashing in lately.

I used to take graduating from high school for granted. It seemed like all you had to do was show up and you could make it through. But I have such respect for each of the kids in this school. Every single one of them has a pretty dark story; they all had to fight against tremendous odds; each learned and conquered so much more than academics; each has a family back home who’s made a tremendous sacrifice to send him there.

In a way, it reminded me of my friend Heather, telling us what a spiritual experience it is to attend an AA meeting--all the pretense is gone, and in its place is honesty, humility, and a harrowing battle, won day by day, hour by hour. There was a similar spirit on the lawn at Oakley. As I sat there and watched these teenage heroes collect their diplomas, I thought of this Dar Williams song:

All the things you treasure most
will be the hardest won.
I will watch you struggle long
before the answers come.
But I won't make it harder,
I'll be there to cheer you on.
I'll shine the light that guides you down
The road you're walking on.

You'll fly away, but take my hand until that day.
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job's done you'll be the one who knows.

Before the mountains call to you,
before you leave this home,
Wanna teach your heart to trust
As I will teach my own.
But sometimes I will ask the moon
Where it shined upon you last
And shake my head and laugh and say
It all went by so fast.

You'll fly away, but take my hand until that day.
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job's done you'll be the one who knows.

It is stunning to think that -- other than occasional visits -- our son, who I carried inside my own body for ten full months, and who lived with us since the day he was born, has now lived away from home for four hundred and forty-eight days. (But who’s counting?) Four hundred forty-eight days is a long, long time. I look at Josh and wonder if I've accomplished such great strides in the same number of days in my own life.

Most of all, if I've accomplished anything, I hope he now knows how very far love goes.