You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
And You are the one who’ll decide where to go.
– Dr. Seuss
Change can be painful and growth can catch us by surprise. My family experienced both last weekend. Beginning last Thursday evening and continuing through Sunday, it was clear these four days would become a marker in our lives – a time we could point to years from now and still feel the significance and impact it had on each one of us.
Brandon and Andrew, my two sons, each experienced separate situations, but both came away with the same awareness, and perhaps a dose of eye-opening shock, that life moves on, things change, and what we have one day may be gone the next. My wife, Mary Beth, fully aware of the necessity for change, welcomed the change she experienced and used it to take a significant step forward in her life.
My daughters and I witnessed, first hand, the exhilaration change can bring to people’s lives and we also show a hint of sadness and a sense of loss that can also be attributed to change. By Monday, however, we all felt hope for our lives; for what was on the way; for the beginning of next.
Thursday evening, May 15 | The Last Game
Baseball is a game played by boys.
My younger son, Andrew, who is a sophomore in high school, plays on his school’s baseball team. On Thursday evening, his team played in the district tournament. The strategy is simple: win or go home; there are no consolation games.
Andrew’s team won the first game. Down two runs with just two innings to play, the Jaguars managed a late-game rally to advance to the district championship. The winner of this game would advance to the state tournament in Topeka.
One of the team’s seniors, Jake, was selected to pitch this game. He pitched exceptionally well the first five innings. He had full command of his pitches and did not allow the opposing team to score. In the sixth inning, the defense broke down which allowed the other team to take the lead.
Andrew happened to be the lead-off batter for the top of the seventh inning (high school games are just seven innings). This would be our team’s last attempt to either tie the game or go ahead with the chance to win it in the bottom half of the inning. If the Jaguars didn’t score in this inning, the game would be over.
Mary Beth and I watched as our son approached home plate to begin his at-bat. Andrew has been playing competitive baseball for the last ten years. He has played in hundreds of games, but never on a stage like this. Andrew was aggressive and he fought to get on base. Instead, he struck out. After missing the last pitch, he hit the ground with his bat. Angry and frustrated, Andrew walked back to his team’s bench. There will be other games for Andrew.
The two batters after Andrew also recorded outs. The game was over and so was the season. The team would not be going to Topeka.
After watching the opposing players celebrate their victory in the middle of the infield, my son’s team lined up to exchange handshakes and offer their congratulations. When Jake, the pitcher, stepped across the third-base foul line on his way back to his team’s bench, it must have occurred to him he was walking off a baseball field for the last time.
Overcome with emotion, the young man fell to his knees. Squatting in a crouched position with his head in hands, Jake began to weep. A few of the players knelt beside their friend to offer comfort.
The other players and coaches looked on with compassion and understanding. They understood the moment. Andrew was caught off guard. Baseball is a game played by boys, he thought. It never occurred to him until that instant that there would come a time when some boys would stop playing.
My son approached the other seniors on his team and, as he told me later, cried with them. Not over the loss of the game; but over a more painful and permanent loss. Some were going on to college to continue playing baseball; while others were not. Some had played their last game. At that moment, on a baseball field in Kansas, it was the beginning of next for all of them.
Friday afternoon, May 16 | The Three of Us
Our older son, Brandon, graduated from the University of Kansas last Friday afternoon. He completed his undergraduate degree in four years and finished strong with an impressive grade point average. Mary Beth and are I very proud of him
The cliché our children grow up in the blink of an eye is very true. Twenty-two years ago it was just the three of us. Mary Beth was nineteen-years-old when Brandon was born and I was only a few years older. We were young and inexperienced parents, dirt poor and had to live with my in-laws for the first four months of Brandon’s life.
Somehow, though, we made it. We did manage to move into our first apartment and then a year later we moved from Norfolk, Virginia to Washington D.C. – just the three of us. It’s truly amazing my wife and I were able to conceive our daughter, Caitlin, during this time in our life.
On Friday our life came around full circle.
Mary Beth and I headed over to Lawrence to watch Brandon’s graduation. Our other children could not attend because of work and school commitments. After the brief, but graceful ceremony, we headed to lunch – just the three of us.
We found a table at the restaurant and settled in for a celebratory meal. A couple of months earlier we had already given Brandon his college graduation present, so for this occasion my wife and I had written personal messages in a card for our son.
Brandon read the messages and then looked up with tears in his eyes. The words, no doubt, touched his heart, but perhaps what touched his heart the most was in the awareness it was just the three of us at lunch; like it was a long time ago.
And no matter when we will have our next lunch with Brandon, it won’t be like this again. At that moment, in a restaurant in Kansas, it was the beginning of next for the three of us.
Sunday morning, May 18 | Good for Nothing
Two years ago my wife wept as she read her acceptance letter to graduate school. The time had arrived for her to follow her heart’s desire. The tears, perhaps, were a combination of excitement and fear – fear of the unknown, maybe.
Before that moment, Mary Beth had chosen her family over a career. She knew it was more important to be available to invest in the lives of her children. And to be honest, because we were married so young, college was never really an option.
Instead, years after we started our family, she earned her undergraduate college degree from a distance education institution. This was not really the college experienced she had hoped for, but she never complained. My wife is good for nothing.
Sunday morning was her time to be celebrated and honored. So, Caitlin, Andrew, Emily and I woke up early and made ourselves ready to leave on time. After we arrived in Lawrence, Kansas for the graduation ceremony, I called Brandon to tell him where we were sitting. He joined us in time.
I watched as my wife walked in with the other master-level graduation candidates. Her face revealed an incredible sense of self-satisfaction and pride. The guest speaker, the Honorable Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II, delivered a moving speech entitled Good for Nothing.
At first, I was at a lost with the speech’s meaning. Typically to say someone is good for nothing is disparaging at best. But as the Congressman progressed in his speech, his message became clearer.
Social workers don’t make a lot of money or receive very much recognition, Congressman Cleaver pointed out. Mary Beth and the others selected this profession because it’s their passion; their purpose in life. Their mission is to help those who sometimes need an advocate, a champion, a counselor, and a friend.
The men and women who do this work are good people, with compassionate hearts and they expect nothing in return. They are good for nothing. They are good because goodness exists in them naturally.
My children and I watch as their mother’s name was called. She gently bent her knees so one of the professors could slip the hood over her head. At that moment, in an auditorium in Kansas, Mary Beth accomplished something she has wanted for over half of her life. At that moment, our children clearly understood her accomplishment, what was ahead of her, and absolute proof their mother is good for nothing.
Monday, May 19 | Commencement
The baseball tournament was over. The graduation ceremonies were completed. The time for true commencement arrived on Monday.
Andrew met with his baseball coach after school to talk about a summer conditioning program. He committed to working out every day with the goal of becoming stronger and better. Andrew does not want to play his last baseball in two years; he wants to keep moving forward and go as far as he can go. He interested in finding out what’s next for him after high school. I know he will discover it.
Brandon had an important job interview on Monday. In fact, he was interviewing with a business associate, and friend, of mine. Brandon is still my son and no matter how old he becomes or what significant milestones he accomplishes in his life, I will always do my best to take care of him. There was a time, a very special time, when it was just the three of us. No matter what’s next, the sprit of that time will always live in me.
I saw Brandon a few minutes before his interview and when I did, I saw a young man focused and determined to take an important next step in his life. On Friday he was still a college kid with a scraggy beard; on Monday he was clearly ready for what’s next.
Mary Beth completed her first day as a professional social worker. She still has some work to complete in order to become fully licensed, but she is allowed to meet with patients and provide counseling in a supervised setting.
She woke up on Monday morning reenergized and committed to her passion and to her new career. My hope for my wife is she begins to feel the asterisk, which she believes is next to her life, being erased. She has accomplished a significant goal and she is eager for what’s next. There is no question she will impact the lives of others in a positive way. And by association, I’m sure she will continue to find out more about herself – things the rest of us already know.
These four days in May reminded me that we all have the power to decide where we want to go in life, we get to choose our direction and we get to decide what’s next. The beginning of next is an opportunity to celebrate the life ahead and how we want to get there. As we go, we can grow and be changed for the better.