Thursday, March 19, 2009

“The Day Before Last” Blues

My wife and I recently returned from an eight-day cruise of the Caribbean, in celebration of twenty years of marriage. The ship was amazing. The waitstaff and crew were extremely helpful and pleasant. And we made friendships in the dining room that we hope will last.

If you’ve ever been on a week-long vacation to a tropical island or another desirable destination, you know that in the first hours (for us, as the cruise ship left Ft. Lauderdale), the whole week stretches out before you, ready to be seized – but not too quickly. You begin to plan your time, making sure that you do everything that you want to, but spacing it out so as to make the week last. In fact, as we prayed over our meals, my wife and I asked God to make the time go by slowly on our vacation.

As the week progresses, you are conscious of the passage of days. At some point, you realize that you have reached the halfway point. For this recent cruise, I remember that moment, but I remember still thinking that we had plenty of time left to do the things that we hadn’t yet done. The halfway point is still filled with optimism.

For me, the real emotional turning point is the day before last. That was day seven of our eight-day cruise. Even though we still had almost two full days to go, that day was filled with melancholy as we began our “litany of lasts” – last walk around the deck, last dinner with our new shipboard friends, last free cookie and hot tea in the promenade café before bedtime. Instead of being able to fully enjoy these last few hours, each event was tempered with a little sorrow as the finality of our time approached. Maybe you have had this feeling on a vacation, or when leaving a job, city, school, or friend in your past.

There is a purpose to this observation. My oldest daughter Molly is now fifteen years old, and we have only three years to go before college potentially takes her away. The timing is equivalent to “the day before last” in terms of our time with her. I’m beginning to become aware that I have very little time left to teach and influence her on a daily basis. The reality that I may not get to experience all of the things that I have mentally planned to do with her is suddenly apparent to me.

Will we ever get to vacation as a full family in Hawaii again? Have we painted her room for the last time? Does she have clothes in her closet right now that she might pack with her on her honeymoon? Is this feeling the one that every parent experiences when they suddenly come to grips with the idea that their children won’t be at home forever?

This feeling is strong for me right now. As sad as I was to complete our fantastic cruise-ship vacation, I will be far more distraught when our family dinner table is reduced from five chairs to four. And then from four to three. Even with as much love as my wife and I have for each other, there will be an indescribable sense of melancholy when that number is finally reduced to two.

I am determined to use these last days well. From our entire child-rearing perspective, we are somewhere in the middle of day five, out of an eight day journey. The “day before last” is quickly upon us. Dear Lord, please multiply our time, give it purpose and meaning, and let my children (as well as me and my wife) be ready when it comes time to part ways and enter the next step in the voyage.

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