A Sunset in the Mind
September 8, 2022 | Jim Angehr
Just because the saying, “They grow up so fast,” is a cliché, that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Last week I dropped off my oldest child for the beginning of his first year of college, and I’m feeling it. One deposits their eldest son or daughter at university for the first time only once, I suppose.
I’d been anticipating Josiah’s drop off day for years, sometimes with dread, sometimes with pride, sometimes with wist. At the same time, even as I would periodically imagine the scene in the abstract, the particulars always remained vague. Would I cry? (Probably.) Would Josiah? (Probably not.) Would Emily? (Magic 8 Ball continually spinning.)
Moreover, would the final hug occur in a dorm room? At a dining hall? Rushed (“Dad, I need to head out with my roommates now”) or leisurely (“Dad, thanks. . . for everthing”)?
But then it happened, last Wednesday. It was me, Emily, and our two daughters. (Our rising 11th grader, Micah, befuddled us by electing to remain at home for high school soccer practice over making the road trip. I can’t really blame him, since I too was psycho dedicated to sports at his age. Still, when Micah protested against his presence on the excursion with, “But dad, it’s PRESEASON!,” my reply was, “Exactly.”)
College drop offs have evidently become elongated family affairs compared to back in my day. Years ago, I arrived on campus by myself with a chest full of knickers, an area map with the name of my dorm circled, and a wallet that contained a $50 dollar bill and a note to call my parents if the billfold became lost. Fast forward to 2022, and the college fêtes incoming students and their entourages with a full day's worth of festivities. We arrived at 9am on Wednesday and departed at 5pm.
The hug occurred at 4:38pm. Josiah first hugged Clara (smiling), Jessie (quiet), myself (crying, obviously), and finally Emily (crying, surprisingly). The location turned out not to be at the dorm but outside: we all were standing to the side of Baker Library on Dartmouth’s campus near the Green, and after embraces Josiah turned and walked up a long path past Wheeler Hall on his way back to Fayerweather. It was cloudy, but there was a sunset in my mind.
A few evenings before my own foray to college as I was doing some packing in my room at home, my dad knocked on my door, asking to come in. He didn’t stay long but passed on to me a letter, saying, “Here are some thoughts I wanted to share with you as you go on from here. I love you.”
It was a letter in which my dad sought to sum up his years with me, his affection for me, his wisdom for me. This communication wasn’t totally out of the blue from my old man, since he was always highly vulnerable and verbal with all of us. (Somewhat against the gendered stereotypes, it was my mother who could be more closed off and prickly.) Even so, this letter carried with it the weight of a final word, a cumulative message containing the entirety of my father to me. I value few objects or artifacts more than this one.
Daunted by the shadow cast by my dad’s missive, I nevertheless a couple of weeks ago sat down to draft a similar letter to Josiah. I do hope that Josiah appreciates it, but in addition I was simply grateful for the opportunity that the letter afforded me to give him my full and focused attention. If I were to compress and imbue myself into such a concentrated form to my son, what would I write?
Because I’m not a young person, I won’t share that letter on social media for the world to see. I’ll mention, however, that at some point during that writing exercise, I thought of Jesus of Nazareth. During our recent Bible 101 classes at Liberti Collingswood, we discussed how the church has confessed that in Christ, the full being of God the Father himself is climatically expressed to us in the person of his Son. See Hebrews 1:1-2, namely, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Jesus is God’s final, and gracious, word to us all.
For all of my years as a Christian, I’ve experienced Hebrews 1:1-2 as one, such as I am, who gratefully receives Jesus. Perhaps after writing to Josiah, I’m now able to access the same text albeit in small part from the standpoint of the one doing the imparting. Here, for everyone, is my son whom I love, and with whom I am well pleased.
Love you and am proud of you, Josiah.