You talk with a police offer on your last Sunday.
Your last Sunday still living at home — after the Preacher had said his Amen 10 minutes before noon, you walk up to one of the guys milling around with these smooth stones of small talk out in the chapel foyer —
and you up and ask the cop how to shine a pair of shoes. There are people who find small talk soul shrinking. That would be you.
“Just how do you do the spit and polished kind — like the mirror polish.”
And you motion with your hand like you’re polishing that mirror and I see clearly who you are, how you are about to walk out of here, a man-son gone.
We BBQ chicken for Sunday dinner.
I slowly make a spinach salad, roast a pan of squash, onions, carrots with rosemary and garlic, cut up tomatoes.
You leave your scuffed up shoes at the side porch door, next to the golden lab, Boaz, all sprawled out.
You’re reading over your course agenda, the schedule of of your university classes. And I’m stepping over your shoes, in and out the door, checking on the chicken on the BBQ that’s puffing like a dragon. Your whole childhood, puffed and gone. Tomorrow, I’ll look in the fridge and realize you aren’t coming home for dinner anymore. There really are last suppers.
At the porch door, I lean over your shoes. Pick up your shoes, your man-sized shoes. The friend at church, the off-duty cop, he’d said 7 coats of polish. You’d need 7 coats laid down first. The BBQ sizzles. I sit on the edge of the porch and begin. Begin to polish your shoes before you leave, as if I can polish all the battered years into something better.
You know how there’s this cheering when the calendar rolls around again and kids have to catch buses and go back to school? All those happy sighs of relief for 18 years of back to school days?
Well, sitting on the front porch, polishing your 18 year old’s shoes, all I can do is swallow around this burning ember in my throat and think of is that Piers Morgan line to Susan Boyle: “Well, nobody is laughing now.”
There ain’t nobody who gets to the final leaving and laughs relief. You wildly want one more day, one more strawberry sundae in the park, one more canoe paddle down the Maitland, one more load of laundry, one more sticky cereal bowl in the sink. And time’s run out.
I don’t think you know all the elements of the periodic table. And I am pretty sure your four years of desperate Latin wrestling are reduced now to only a feeble recitation of amo, amas, amat. The year we learned it, till you could sing all the countries of the world? How many do either one of us remember now?
The black polish spreads across the back of your shoe heel like butter. How can you spend so many of the fleeting days of a child’s life on the fleeting things? How could I forget that the only thing that we’re always really teaching is love? What if I’m wild to go back to Dr. Suess and begin again? What if I want to go back and make the schedule simpler so our lives could be richer? So I could tie your shoe one more time and bend down and kiss your cowlick.
What if I want to play more games of monopoly and leave the dishes in the sink more often? What if I want to take you fishing more Saturdays and blow off cleaning up the garage? Why doesn’t someone tell all the homemakers: Cleaniness isn’t next to godliness. Love is.
What if I still want to memorize Romans with you and finish reading the Old Testament and build a tree fort in the woods with you and sleep a week under stars? Motherhood is made up of childhood — and what if I missed it? What if all those glory days are gone and you won’t be at the table tomorrow and next week and next Sunday noon? Grace allows u-turns; it’s Time that doesn’t. This is a grace too, to coerce us all into waking up to the here that won’t be here tomorrow.
You may forget the chonology of the Eyptian pharaohs, but you’ll remember your Dad sneaking up behind me and kissing my ear while I was scrubbing out the breakfast frying pan. I’m not partial to how much you remember of calculus; but it’s dire that you know that the sum of how you see the ordinary is all that ever adds up to an extraordinary life. The lessons any kid remembers are the ones his parents lived. The goal is simple: It’s not about a 5-year scholarship but being a life-long learner and a life-long lover.
I wish I had cared a lot less about your room being clean and a lot more that you and your brothers being close. Why didn’t I paint it in neon on a wall: More important than a clean house is a close family.
I’m polishing your shoes, slow and sacred and silently brimming, trying to buff out all the creases of the last 18 years and there’s no changing it: I got a lot of things wrong, son. I wished we went to more free skates at the arena and had more free evenings because that buys peace. You and I both know how I should have bit my tongue more, prayed more, and what on earth kept me from smiling more?
I wished we’d read more Charlie Brown books together and laughed loud on the floor. I should have gone slower. Every time you saw me, a smile is what you should have seen first.
I’d give my eye teeth, my liver and lifetime worth of free bacon to go back and tell you three times a day to look you in the eyes and tell you: I really like you.
Forgive us for not painting those ghastly school-bus yellow walls in your room a different color about 5 years sooner.
By His grace and a few thousand miracles, there was good and smiles can swim through tears. Remember how we read a million library books together? I’ll never regret every page we chose over screens.
We ate three meals a day together at a table (and don’t think that doesn’t change the shape of a soul and the world). And we never pushed back our chairs until we’d had our dessert of Scripture. Life is about one thing: Coming to His table and inviting as many as you can to come with you and feast on the only Living Food. We gave you this.
Seven coats of shoe polish. And there’s no way I’m close to letting you go.
But when I hold your right shoe? Just to polish up the side?
I can feel that spot where your big toe has rubbed the shoe lining through. Makes me smile brave. You’re itching to go and begin.
So that’s what I’m doing: Do not only grieve that it’s over — be grateful that it was.
The world needs a few good men, son. Men who will polish the worn into something better, men who will live dangerously so others can be safe, men who will live as first-responders.
The world needs more men in kitchens and pews and offices and streets who live as first-responders — first-responders to the sullen teenager who’s hurting bad, to the single-mom overwhelmed down the street, to the heartbroken woman who can’t even find words.
For all our messing up and falling down, we raised you for that.
In honor of all those who have come behind…. in honor of Christ who lived like that: Go into a hurting world and live your life as a First-Responder.
And your old Mama with these shoe polish stained hands, yeah, she’s standing sure on the front porch, waving brave as you drive away to make this old world a better place –
1.How to be the Parent You Want to be: 40 Things Every Child Needs to Know before They Leave Home
2. 4 Steps When You are not Ready for Change
3. 25 Things Every New, Middle and Grad Parent and their Kids Needs to Know
4. After Steubenville: 25 Truths our Sons Need to Know about Manhood
(and how our son’s in first year university and working to make the world better: JoyWares.com)