It is late spring in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The dogwoods planted in backyard gardens,
The pear trees on the Boulevard,
The plum bushes in wild thickets at the edge of town,
Have already blossomed.
Sunlight comes early and goes home late.
We are ten days from the summer equinox
When the “Big Boys” and “Better Boys” we planted in clay pots
Will get sixteen hours of sunlight.
The first heat wave of the summer has arrived.
The mayor has asked us to water our lawns on alternate days.
A voice on the radio tells us that out in the country
The prairie grasses are more combustible than gasoline.
A few weeks ago there was graduation.
We had a reception and attended others
With bright punch and small rectangular pieces of cake.
At one of the baccalaureates there was an empty seat for a classmate
Who did not survive a horrible automobile crash
And who we will continue to think about years after
You have sent our own children to college.
This is an interesting time if you are eighteen years old
Living on the rim of adulthood in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Life can best be explained by imagining two funnels
Lying next two each other with their stems connected.
In the first funnel are all the challenges you have survived:
The pain of peer pressure, acne, and bad locker partners.
The meanness than come from friends in junior high.
The time you took the last shot . . . and missed.
The times you wondered if there were too many expectations.
Some nights you spent wondering whether you will ever be loved
By anyone, other than your parents,
Who, as everyone knows, are required by state law to love us.
And who are also required to remind us of this fact
Each time they don’t give us something we want.
They also continually ask us where we are going
Even when we aren’t.
And just where are we going anyway?
To the University, or St. Cloud State, Wesleyan and KU.
Some place where no one will ask us about what we are wearing
Or whether or not we have something on our mind.
Some place where we don’t have to share anything
With a goofy brother or sister
Who we may secretly start to miss.
The next few years, where the two stems meet, is a sanctuary
Where you get to try different things on.
You can try on architecture or criminal justice.
You can try on journalism or marine biology,
Even if you’ve only been to the ocean on the internet.
You can try on new friends.
You can read short stories by William Faulkner till morning
And sing loud songs on the toilet.
You can try out new ideas.
You can be a Buddhist for a semester.
You can give up meat. Or lettuce.
You could take a course in African pottery.
You can break the rules.
You can choose to not make your bed.
You can wear colors that don’t match
And flip-flops to class.
You can sleep in on Wednesday mornings,
And you can choose not to go out for drama,
Speech and debate, student council, French club and track.
You can also choose to do all of those things if you really want.
You can adopt a highway with friends
Or a cat by yourself . . . as long as the head resident doesn’t see it.
You can cut your fingernails and let them fly through the air
As they somersault to the carpet . . . and not pick them up.
At the other funnel at the end of the stems, hard things await.
It will be hard to stay passionate about a job.
It will be hard, at times, to stay healthy.
It will be hard to loose weight.
It will be hard to find the right companion.
It will be hard to stay married.
It will be hard to say no to your daughter
When you have the means to give her what she wants.
It will be hard to be a teacher, a clerk, a coach or an actuary.
The hardest thing of all will be to be a good parent.
It’s hard not to step in and try to make things easy
When your daughter needs to find out some answers for herself.
It is hard to let your children experience the pain of growing up.
But there will be things not so hard as well . . .
Like what is happening to your parents at this moment:
Mom and Dad are taking a deep breath.
They are telling themselves how all your problems were small.
Nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a little discussion
Or a role of duct tape.
They are thinking back to when you were five or six
Playing t-ball and micro soccer
And how, out of all those kids, that you did everything with,
You were the one who continued . . .
Who continued to compete,
Who continued to get good grades,
Who continued to make good decisions,
Who continued to move toward something outside yourself.
Now, they are not so much concerned with where you are going,
But how soon before you come back.
On the night before you leave home for the first time . . .
When you are thinking about a world
That is moving faster than a comet
With opportunities whirling like the stars in a Van Gogh,
Your parents will like awake, quiet, still
Lost in their thoughts of how much they love you,
How proud they are of what you are becoming.
And before they fall asleep
In the coolness of the sheets and your impending absence,
With full knowledge of all the joys and pitfalls that await you,
One of them will turn to the other and say,
“Well she’s come this far . . . how did we get so lucky.”