The alarm on the window sill begins to fade in and you slowly come to life and roll onto your back. You didn’t sleep well, or at least enough, because the anxiousness kept you awake two hours longer than planned. Ten more minutes? No, you have to get up.
Coffee comes first because this is still life, after all, and some things don’t change. You carry the cup into his room with you and the nightlight gives you just enough to see his head – fresh haircut only two days old – visible above the layers of blankets. Life is about to be different for this boy. Responsibilities – small ones in measure, sure, but responsibilities nonetheless. He has to be somewhere now, do things other than collecting rocks from the backyard and eating cereal from a bag irrespective of the time of day. It’s a few years before he understands the definition or even the spelling of the word, but the boy will now be accountable. And you hate that a little. A lot.
“Son.” You feel his arm through the blankets and give a little squeeze. “Son, time to wake up.”
He stirs and does a half-snore.
“Son, time to get movin’. First day, buddy.”
“Dude. We’ve got donuts.”
He moves the covers off of him and his feet are on the floor and he’s rubbing his eyes. There was a time not very long ago when you would have told him to go back to sleep, that it was too early. Now you’re luring him out of bed with pastries. And when he’s done eating them you tell him to go get a wet rag and wash his face, which surprises him because it’s not something he’s had to think much about in his life up to that point. But he goes off and does his best.
He comes out fully dressed but his shirt’s on backward. Quick fix. You watch him put his glasses on and the question comes to you – who’s going to clean his glasses? – that thing you do five or six times every day. You bought everything on the school supply list and all the coolest new clothes and his lunch is packed, but this one was missed. We’ll practice that this week.
He’s getting nervous so he talks a lot in the car. He jumps out and starts walking toward the building and you remind him that he is now responsible for a thing called a backpack and that he can’t forget it. He shimmies it on and you grab his hand.
It’s loud and hectic and parents are stepping around one another and you look down to see what his face tells you. A little overwhelmed. He looks up and you wink. Always helps. The classroom is crowded and is a strange mix of sounds. A kid is wailing, another laughing. One has her head in her hands, crying the way an adult would.
He finds his seat and sits down and you kneel down next to him and his eyes are puffy and full. He’s been about as brave as he can be. You move in close.
“Son, listen. A few of these kids are really, really nervous and scared. If you’re a friend to them, it will help them be brave. Know what I mean?”
He sniffs and nods his head. The moment passes.
“I want you to have an incredible first day. I can’t wait to hear all about it when I pick you up. I love you big time. Give me a hug.”
You walk down the hall alone and your vision is blurred and you remember the times when you could have been more present, more aware. The warning of James comes to mind. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (James 4:14)
My prayer is less planning, more living. Less distraction, more focus. Less thinking too far ahead, more living in the present. Less taking things for granted, more appreciation. Fewer miles, and more steps.
I ask it in the holy name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
(This is an excerpt from an upcoming book called Mile Markers)