When I visit with new parents, I often share with them one of the big lessons that Mrs. FKB and I have learned from our daughter and our two sons: raising kids is in large part about managing transitions. It is about figuring out how to get children out of the bathtub and into pyjamas; out of bed and onto a bicycle; away from a pile of dirt in the backyard and towards the dinner table; away from dependency on us and towards agency and confidence. And it is about doing all of these things with as few tears and as little yelling as possible.
Lately, AJ, I’ve been wondering if the work of learning how to gracefully manage transitions isn’t actually a whole lot bigger than the parent-child relationship, if it isn’t actually the work of a lifetime. After all, most of us become orphans sooner or later. Most of us will reach (many of have already reached) that day when we will pick up the phone to call the elder who has shepherded us through so many joys and griefs and we will be startled to remember that no one waits at the other end of the line.
On that day we will ask your question: What now?
I think of my several friends who have been lucky enough or blessed enough to recover so thoroughly from cancer that they may speak not just of remission but actually of being cured: in the joy of this news also comes the hard work of transitioning from being someone who is sick to being someone who is well. What now? I think of the many people who have had the difficult privilege of caring for a loved one in his or her dying: in addition to big grief, the funeral brings with it a transition into a life that is suddenly cleared of doctor’s appointments and the managing of pills and late-night phone calls. What now? I think of myself on the not one but two occasions that I got laid off: funnily enough, what I remember worrying me most in those days was not the question of how I was going to pay my bills but, rather, was the question of what I was going to say to people when they asked me, “So, what do you do?”
One of the many things that draws me to the Christian tradition is that it suggests at least a couple of answers to that question. First, the tradition reminds us of our need to encounter transition via ritual. We live in a ritually impoverished society. And yet some deep and old part of us remembers that the changes of life are more easily and more healthily more completely encountered when have community within which to name them using road-tested stories, songs, symbols, and actions. Baptism, marriage, and burial are probably the best-known rituals of change that the church offers. But there are more. I am inspired by the witness of those communities that have crafted rituals to name divorce or miscarriage or graduation or growing up or any number of life’s transitions.
Second, the Christian tradition insists that we are never alone in change. The promise of the Incarnation is that Jesus knows what it is to have a body, what it is to grow up, what it is to experience pain, what it is to know love and loss. In the changes of life, therefore, we may say to Jesus with confidence, “You know what this is like.”
Near the end of most days, my three-year-old son sits in my lap and I read him a story. Often it’s the same book over and over again. That moment in the old easy chair under the lamp is a ritual and a prayer, both at once. At the end of the story I close the book and my son crawls out of my lap and into his bed and I pull the covers over him and turn out the light.
Now sleep. Now dream of the day that was and the morning that is to come.