one thing: be safe
and so, like that, hair still wet from the shower, white t-shirt tight enough to catch each plane and shadow of the rower’s top-half topography, the babe i once rocked in my arms, the boy who never much took to tricycles, the now-man with newly-minted license in his tight-squeeze pocket, he did something i’d never seen before: he swiped the keys to the old blue wagon off the ring where they’ve dangled since the day we moved into this old house, and he ran for the door, for the driver’s seat, for the road and whatever lay beyond.
mid-stride, and without ceremony, he glanced back to check the clock, nervously (only because he was late not because he had an ounce of apprehension about the road ahead), as i tried to slow the exit, calling out, wait, where exactly are you going? and when will you be home?
as he tossed back words, perfectly sensible replies, and made one final lope through the door and down the steps, disappearing behind the crab apple that nearly blocks the path, i called out: “be safe.”
and the words hung there.
each crisp syllable so wholly capturing what i wished and prayed for with all my being.
what more is there?
what deeper prayer does a mother’s heart hold?
above all, be safe.
come home whole. come home without a gash. never mind the fender or the tail lights. just be safe, my sweet beloved child.
and so for the next few hours, i went about my business. few noticed, i’m certain, that i was turning blue around the mouth. i held my breath. only half expanding lungs, i do believe, as i watched the clock hand glide towards ten.
till at last i heard the rumble, saw the headlights illuminating garbage cans as they pointed down the alley, came round the final bend into where we sometimes park the car, two bright eyeballs, blinking “we’re home” to me, as they clicked off, and the 6-foot-3 first-time-alone-ever driver slid from the old wagon as if he’d been out unencumbered a million times before and this was nothing, nothing really to have interrupted anyone’s lung-work for the eve.
i find myself employing those two words–be safe–often in these past few weeks.
both my boys, it seems, are pushing out the boundaries, laying new tracks, expanding their orbits beyond me. out of reach. into that terrain where we hold on only through the silky thread of prayer, the whispered murmurings of petition to the great protectors all around, or up on clouds, wherever is the place from where they keep their watch.
the little one now bounds up the stairs to his piggy bank, grabs a crumpled dollar bill, and tells me he is walking to the little not-so-far-away grocery where all the kids buy chips and candy. or to the comic book store. or, just the other day, over train tracks, across the big street, the one with five lanes of traffic, to get to the store where baseballs called to his friend, and my little one didn’t think to say, um, no, i can’t come with you without checking first at home.
and as he sweetly told the story–confessed, really–i could only gulp and think of safe again, that word that captures unbroken wholeness, the white light of safety shield that we hope and pray and beg surrounds our children, no matter what they throw against it: diving boards or busy streets or trucks with 18 wheels and drivers half-dozing at the steering wheel.
not one to rely on hope alone, and having grown up with rosary beads dangling from my bed post, at the bottom of my white straw pocketbook (the one with starched-cotton cornflowers and poppies on the lid, the one i carried each sunday into church), and, yes, amid the pens and pencils and assorted detritus in the pit of my high school backpack besides, i wasted little time before enlisting st. christopher to my back-up squad.
i ordered up a medallion, a dangly disc, of dear saintly chris, the one who carried baby jesus (i do believe) on his shoulders across a raging river, and who, along with st. babs, my namesake, got unceremoniously dumped from the heavenly chorus back in the revolutionary 1960s when the catholic church decided their miracles weren’t quite of the saintly stature, so they were stripped of rank, left to be mere lieutenants of goodness in the hierarchy’s eyes. which, of course, is all it took for me to promptly and fiercely promote them ever higher, in my book now patron saints of all of us who have ever suffered the indignities of being shoved to the back of the pack.
yo, chris, for you we have assignment.
and thus, in a white envelope left waiting on my keyboard (thanks be to my own personal patron saint of procuring–my holy blessed mama), there is the half-inch metal oval of mid-stream chris that will forever dangle from my brand-new driver’s key ring.
be safe, it will whisper, will send off vapors, will infuse the air my firstborn breathes when he is far, far beyond my clutch.
be safe, the holy mantra of the mamas, as we stand back and let our babies reach and stretch and take to the highways. st. chris, right there in that front pocket, where we can’t ever fit.
the photo up above is reality journalism, taken the very moment my firstborn cruised to the end of the alley, clicked on the blinker, headed north into the rest of his driving life. it was mere hours after the driving czars deemed him worthy of a certifiable driver’s license. and i was left, with quivering fingers on the camera clicker, having captured the stunning truth: my boy was driving now. i heard the snap of the scissors as yet another cord was cut.
whose safety have you prayed for of late? and what long nights’ vigil have you kept, waiting for the headlights at last to come to park?
He turned on the blinker. In the alley. He – and Chris – will be just fine.
Friday, August 13, 2010 – 10:04 PM
I have so much to add, so little time right now. We are in Israel, just ending our trip of 2 weeks, as much to travel in Ben’s last footsteps as our own. It has been a thrilling if exhausting trip. My Ben, finally safe at last, in a wholly different way. Your son, reaching for his moon, will also, always be safe. With much love for you and your wonderful writing,
Saturday, August 14, 2010 – 02:14 AM
Oh bam, how I remember the day so vividly. We had just returned from the Motor Vehicle Department with a freshly minted license in Emily’s purse. She sweetly (but firmly) asked to take the car to a friend’s house. I’ll never forget the feeling of standing in the driveway as she pulled away. Something inside of me knew this was the beginning of an independence that I wasn’t quite ready for. Like you, I breathed a prayer and secretly held my breath until I heard the garage door open, signaling that she was home. I remember trying to peek through the shutters without her knowing that I was standing watch.
I pray for my children daily, good times and bad. God knows that my mama’s heart wants to shield them forever, but I know that’s not possible. Even though I can’t be everywhere, there’s comfort in knowing that He is.
Saturday, August 14, 2010 – 08:10 PM
bless your heart, darlin. and all the skeins of prayer it holds……
the string of comments above make me laugh, and tingle at once. barbara’s journey, to retrace the last steps of her blessed ben, is holy ground indeed. and i am so touched and honored that you would stop by here–i think of you often. for those reading along, barbara beyer is a hero, a true hero. her story, i will let her tell……
and yes, BP the turn signal was on in the alley. it was the first drive, after all. but he didn’t know i was watching….me and my camera….
Saturday, August 14, 2010 – 11:45 PM
just clarifying…the BP comment is the one that made me laugh. and the one from B Byer is the one that made me tingle. those responses were sequential, one after the other, so in sum i was left with the lingering of having smiled and having felt the spine-tingling of reading barbara’s words about her journey in israel, of ben…..
i needed to make sure there was no confusion. the whole here, as it often does, pulls in so many stories, so many responses. as at every great kitchen table conversation, one moment you are laughing, trying not to choke on your coffee, and the next minute you are wiping away tears….
p.s. i was up early and peeking over here because my little one, who has been quite worried about how to make it through the night at his first slumber party, just called to let me know he’d made it. he’s not one to sleep away from home, not at all, and this was a big giant hurdle, so his grammy wisely–oh so wisely–thought to have him tuck my cell in his backpack so he could call if need be, and so he did. at 10:30 just to say hello, at 3:03 to say it was “a little hard.” and at 6:35 to say he’d made it….and now both of us are feeling the post-slumber party groggies. he told me he was up walking “to shake off the grogginess.” i laughed, said that’s a staple of every slumber party ever. you just come home and feel like you are walking through a world of cottonballs, and a long deep nap will only start to shake it off….
Sunday, August 15, 2010 – 07:01 AM
Dear, dear BAM, such beautiful words again! And you do have your own set of emotions going on, first time driving and first time slumber parties. Enjoy the good times as those boys are yours are daily reaching for more independence. . . You ask about my late night vigils. Let me put a disclaimer out before I answer. I have thought long and hard about putting this “out there,” and I am reluctant. But I know that the people who occupy these chairs are the prayerful sort, and prayers are what I need. I do not want to steal any any of the joy from your own life stories. My daughter in law gave birth to her triplets at only 25 weeks two weeks ago. My first born grandson survived only a few short hours. Since he weighed less than a pound, the docs said nothing could be done. His heart kept beating, and mom held him until he passed. The twin girls have more wrong wtih them than I can begin to share. But they are hanging on. The worst of the worst, if things could be any worse than babies that weighed just a bit more than a pound at birth, is that now one of them has been transferred to a different hospital for surgery. She’s waiting there to double her birth weight before the surgeon can hopefully work some magic. So, mommy and Baby #2 are 90 miles away from Daddy and baby #1. My vigil has been the NICU, my son’s house, my daughter in law’s hospital room. I pray constantly for the safety of those driving between hospitals, I pray that God sees to it that these girls grow and outgrow their numerous problems, and I pray that life will be safe for them very soon. And I am asking the people here at the table to join me in some prayers. I’m really a private person, and before I became a grandma I would never tell anyone something like this about my private life. But, one of the few things that can be done for these babies right now is prayer, so that is what I am asking for.
God bless all of you!
Sunday, August 15, 2010 – 02:35 PM
oh daeer blessed JACK, i am deep in prayer as i type. oh my lord. i am sooo soooo achingly sorry. my heart feels broken to read these words. i was worrying about you and the upcomign wedding and the hardship of watching your youngest leave the nest. i didn’t know triplets were on the way. i am so sorry for your blessed baby boy. dear angel. and for the girls i will pray mightily for miracles, in which i believe. for all of you, for mama and papa separated. for the babies struggling. for you, trying to be there for everyone. i assure you all who pass here will hold all of you in deep prayer. please keep us posted……
Sunday, August 15, 2010 – 05:49 PM
Dearest Jack … yes, you are right. We who occupy the chairs at this blessed table are the praying sort. Lifting up prayers and petitions for miracles that I too, sweet bam, still believe exist. Those tiny lives are in the hands of the doctors, but also on the mind of God.
Sunday, August 15, 2010 – 08:01 PM
Thanks for the prayers and encouragment! Just wanted to say that we’re still waiting on the miracle. One of the babies now has a blood infection, and she’s still so bloated, retaining way too much water. Lots of talk about her kidneys not working properly now. And the other one, the one who needs to gain weight before surgery, is actually losing weight. *sigh* But I’m remaining hopeful! I try to pass that hope to the new mom and dad, but they so tired, so overwhelmed, and so frustrated. I’m counting on better news later today. Thanks again to all of you!
Thursday, August 19, 2010 – 10:51 AM
My prayers are with you, your family and those blessed little ones. The Wash. Post magazine just had an article on preemies who were born at 28 weeks and are now healthy teenagers. I enclose the URL only to show that prayers, hope and love go a long way:
Thursday, August 19, 2010 – 05:20 PM
bless you PJT for sending that bolus of hope. and JACK we are holding our breath right along with you. there’s not a day i don’t wake up and think of those babes and you, and the mama and papa and the angel….
Thursday, August 19, 2010 – 06:49 PM
Me, the poster child for Maslow and his hierarchy is T minus 46 hours til I drop the ballerina/jazz dancer/trumpet player/ice skater/soldier of Christ service worker at a college over the big river. Be safe??? It. is. all. I. can.think.about.
Friday, August 20, 2010 – 08:31 AM
So late to the table….with words anyway. My prayers have been there all along. I am sending my youngest off to college and he was the one that spent most of his first year in hospital and off and on till he was at least four or five. I never dared dream that we would be here, but we are. I am blessed and reliving the years. He still needs some work on his heart, but that can wait. It was a bit weepy to go with him to the cardiologist because I had the clearest memory of bringing him there at 9 weeks….as did the cardiologist. He is the hardest to send off too. Sigh.
Years and years ago I spent much time with a family where the mother would not let you leave until you were touched with holy water from the little container hanging by the door and blessed with the words “Safe Home.”
I have come to understand that “Safe Home” can have many dimensions. May we all arrive “safe home” where ever and what ever that home may be.
Prayers dear Jack….and prayers for all of around the table.
Monday, August 23, 2010 – 11:17 PM
Fast forward from the first day at the wheel. My daughter, age 19, just returned home from a 4000 mile road trip in 12 days she’d planned all summer. Listening to Kurt Vonnegut books on tape, and discussion philosophy. First leg of the drive was 16.5 hours–from Chicago to Boulder. Now that she is home, she told of the difficulty driving the late shift and keeping her eyes open!
Friday, August 27, 2010 – 10:59 PM
I just read all the comments and see how the chair essay to a sharp turn related to prayers for very premature babies. I will be praying too, and hope the tiny girls are stabilizing. There is hope. Here is an article from 1991 reporting on the progress of an extremely premature infant, age 4 at the time of the story:
Next week, I am visiting that premie–in Beijing, where he is starting his Master’s Degree program in Chinese History at one of the good schools there, Renmin DaXue (People’s University). He had health issues, size issues, learning issues, motor skill issues, lung issues, but still kept on truckin’ and is excelling in his life as well as anyone born at full term.
May Jack’s tiny granddaughters emerge from the woods by the new year and continue on a similar path.
Saturday, August 28, 2010 – 01:06 PM