(Writer’s note: I’m at an age when many of my peers will be dropping off adult children at college next weekend. My Godson Micah will be a freshman at nearby Northeastern University come Tuesday, one of more than 150,000 students who will call the Hub home while in college. He hasn’t asked for any advice—what 18 year olds do? But here’s what I hope for him as he begins his own journey as a young man.)
I can’t believe your family’s station wagon is about to be packed up with your stuff and that you are actually leaving home. Though at your age it may feel like time goes by so slowly, that you cannot get to where you want to fast enough, the truth is that as you get older (like me) times speeds by faster and faster. I remember like it was yesterday the day I held you in my arms, gently lowered you into the little river behind your Mom’s church and baptized you in the chilly waters. I remember the time as a toddler that I turned my back for just one moment and you stuffed a big green maple leaf down your throat and almost choked. You scared the heck out of me!
And then I turned around and you grew up, and so now I picture you standing on Huntington Avenue, waving goodbye to your weepy folks and sister, wanting to rush off and just get started. Do that, absolutely but remember how precious and fragile and limited your time here on earth is—so pay attention to all you will experience in the years ahead. The classes you will love and the classes that will bore you; the friends you’ll make for life and the friends who will quickly pass in and out of your life; the games you will cheer at, the parties you will party at (be wise, ok?), the cramped dorm room, the bad cafeteria food—EVERYTHING! It is all a gift and before you know it, you will be clutching a diploma then going on to the next thing.
So Micah: all God gives us is right now, right now. Be fully alive to it. Immersed in it. Appreciate it. Live into it. Love it. Don’t take life for granted. It is a miracle.
Call your mother—and your father and your sister and grandparents and me too, just every once in awhile. Stay connected. You are who you are both because of what you’ve done, but also you are who you are because of all the folks who have loved you into this time in your life. It’s tempting to think that all our achievements somehow happen because we got this far on our own, a conceit the young and old easily imagine.
Truth is that you have a tender heart for others because of the tender heart your Dad possesses, especially for the underdog. You know right from wrong because your Mom’s fiercely wise and protective voice has been guiding you since the day you were born. You treat women well in part, because of the work you’ve put in as a big brother to your little sister. You’ve learned that blood is thicker than water because of all those hours you spent at my family’s Thanksgiving table. Family is never perfect nor without pain or disappointment but while others come and go, family, at its best, always stays.
So Micah: know you are loved, that folks at home care deeply about you: no matter how far away life takes you, no matter what you achieve gloriously or screw up completely. Before college is over, you’ll do plenty of both. Trust that the door is always open and the light is always on. And yes, the offers for free dinners, emergency loans and full laundry facilities are yours’ for the whole time you live in Boston. Promise.
Finally Micah, in all your strivings for college success—academic, social, financial, romantic—save some time and space to also work for a cause greater than yourself. Devote some of your amazing youthful energy to making the world a better place. College will try its best to convince you that you are the center of the world. You are not. None of us are. We’re put here by God for a short time, not just for “me” but for “we” too. As the son of not one but two ministers and the Godchild of a pastor, you sat in church enough Sundays to know this lesson. Live that out now, in your own way.
God expects big things from you. So help build a Habitat house in New Orleans or serve a meal at the Pine Street Inn, or organize a protest against global warming or just be kind to a person in your dorm who needs a good friend.
I know, I know, you’ve got to get going: unpack, put up your posters, explore the big city, start this new life. You are missed already. Be smart. Be careful. And stay in touch.
Love, Uncle John