When your baby turns 25, it's a good time to reflect on life's transitions. Here's a letter to our younger son, who is turning 25. Please read over my shoulder as I write ...
It seems not so long ago that I sat shivering in a chilly Tallahassee operating room, breathlessly watching three doctors delivering you by C-section. I wasn't supposed to be there in an operating room, but then again, neither were your Mom or you! Emergencies are like that, I guess.
Although you were full term, you had ingested meconium in the last hour before delivery, and the emergency required the surgery. It was just minutes between the decision to "go in and get him," as one doctor said, and the rapid administration of anesthesia, the slicing in and pulling out of that bluish, limp and twitching mass — mess, actually. I shook with fright.
Just seconds later, a tube was inserted down your throat, and two doctors and a nurse took turns sucking out the green goo that was choking you. I watched in wonder, waiting for that yelp I so hoped and prayed for. Within seconds, I heard sound from you for the first time. It wasn't grand opera, but it was the most wonderful gurgling cry I could ever imagine.
You survived because of three converging forces: excellent medical care, your sheer will for survival, and divine intervention. Where one begins and the others end is irrelevant. All I know is your life was in multiple hands and each played the role with perfection.
Being the parents of the fattest baby in intensive care for nearly a week was quite a thrill for Mom and me. When considering the alternative, we felt graced and generously gifted.
Over the years, there are two realities that were presaged on that fateful March morning. You never, ever again seemed unclear in your voice, and you have kept up a reputation for willfulness that first showed itself in minute one of life.
And today you are fully engaged in your helping profession, teaching and caring about access to health issues for children and teens. And so the wheel turns — helped at the dawn of life, you've become studied in sciences and are now finding creative ways to help others.
Everyone has a personal story, which describes the events in our unique life. We are the sum total of our experiences and relationships, circumstances both within and beyond our control, opportunities we make for ourselves or are given to us by others. We are complex works in progress, and each day presents new milestones on this complicated trip.
Being the parents of two 20-somethings, your brother Aaron and you, gives Mom and me new perspectives on our own lives. While you will always be "our babies," we know you have a firm foundation upon which you will build your lives.
We are honored to be the parents of two fine sons, but your futures are more in your hands than ours. We will always love and emotionally support you, but our most valued roles have been to give you roots and wings.
As the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran wrote in On Children:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness; For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Parents take every day as it comes, with heartfelt hope, wearying worry and earnest expectation that the seeds of love have grown into strong and sensitive children. Parenting is about slow days and fast decades. None of us can predict what life will bring, but we can be confident that we'll be there for each other no matter the need.
As an advocate, I know that all children are not literally created equal. But each of us has the obligation to appreciate who our children are, balancing protection while promoting their own independence.
We are examples to our children. I believe we are at our best when we dedicate ourselves to giving voice to our ideals, bringing our community to a higher level of awareness, and working for justice for all — neighbors who are near and strangers who live afar.
Age 25 is not just a number, Josh, it marks a transition into a new stage of adulthood, one that will test your decisions and require you to think profoundly, feel deeply and act with resolve to determine your future. We're so grateful that your first day of crisis led to these years of achievement.
Jack Levine is the founder of the 4Generations Institute and lives in Tallahassee.