Wednesday, October 9, 2013

For Crying Out Loud-- Notre Dame's Orientation

For Crying Out Loud-- Notre Dame's Orientation 

When they began to play the final song at the liturgy that closed the freshman/parent orientation weekend at the University of Notre Dame, I started to cry. The song, Canticle of the Sun had been the opening song at our wedding, 20 years before. As the choir and congregation sang, I struggled to compose myself, as my way-too-verbal brain created new lyrics to accompany Marty Haugen’s. 

            The heavens are telling the glory of God (You have grown up, Jacob. Sob, gasp.)
            And all creation is shouting with joy. (I am incredibly happy for you. More tears.)
            Come dance in the forest, come play in the field. (Wasn’t I just playing Legos with you?   How             could that be ten years ago? Tissue from Bill.)
            And sing, sing to the glory of the Lord. (I had no idea on our wedding day what we were                      embarking on. How glorious. How difficult.)
Jacob later told me he could see me weeping from where he sat with the rest of the students, fifty rows away, across the Joyce Center’s Purcell Pavillion. I asked him if he was crying, too. He just smiled and shook his head.

My liturgical crying was nothing new to Jacob. In the weeks leading up to the orientation weekend, I was on the verge of tears all the time. Everything was crisper and held more meaning knowing that Jacob’s days as a full-time member of our household were limited. Good family moments became beautiful and small problems between kids became unbearable.

But even as I bubbled over with emotion for the entire month of August, Jacob remained true to his calm nature. Never a kid prone to extremes, he matter-of-factly started piling his clothes, books and electronics on the ping pong table in the basement, next to his suitcase. He met his soon-to-be roommates on Facebook and ordered a glow-in-the-dark Frisbee so they could play at night, if need be. We fell comfortably into our roles: I was the mom holding onto the memories; he was the young man ready to leave.

Until one night, when we were cleaning the kitchen alone after dinner. I handed Jacob a pot to dry and he said, “I don’t want to go.” 

I looked up, startled. I scanned his eyes—soft, clear, worried, and a little ironic.

“You don’t have to go,” I said brightly. “Stay here. It will be great. There are lots of universities around.”

“I don’t want to do that either,” he said, after a pause. “I just want things to stay how they are right now. I like being here. I liked being at Dominican. I don’t want it all to change.” 

I nodded. And despite all the crying I had done in the past month, and all the crying I would do at orientation weekend in a couple weeks, in that moment, in response to that statement, I did not cry.

Instead, I told Jacob everything I knew that was true. That the friends he would be meeting in the coming semester could very well be friends he would have for the rest of his life; that over the next four years he would glimpse a career he might be called to; that he was soon to become even more of the person he already was—the adult version of the fantastic kid we had always known.  I told him that I had no doubt that God had led him to this point and that as much as he loved our family, this house, his high school, God had more in store for him.

Jacob didn’t cry either, when I told him all this. I wasn’t saying anything new. Anything he didn’t know. He nodded, finished drying his pot and didn’t bring it up again.

Now, a month into his new school year, Jacob sends us quick texts about delicious funnel cake fries from the cafeteria. He emails us news of Frisbee club happenings, and we can look at the picture of himself, his roommates and Nicholas Cage posted as his Facebook profile. He’s filled us in on the young, newly-ordained deacon who is rector of his dorm and the funny French calculus professor who teaches barefoot.

And as he tells us of all the good going on around him, I can read through the emails and texts how happy he is. I think back to all the years he lived at home, and to that summer day in the kitchen, when he actually said he didn’t want to leave, because he liked it here so much. And how, even after saying this, he left anyway.

Twenty years have passed since our wedding day. Our oldest son is in college. He is happy. All creation is singing for joy. And that’s why I’m crying.


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