We dropped my son off at college this past weekend. He graduated high school earlier this month and he’s taking two college classes over the summer to get a head start on his degree.
With his bags dropped off in his new dorm room, his clothes hung up and put away in his closet, his desk supplies prepared, and his laptop set up for the first day of class, I wanted to leave him something that would help him through any challenging times he might run into and to remember us over the next four years. I had been thinking about the question for weeks. We had dropped our oldest daughter off at college two years ago. I wrote about that day previously in “The Challenges of Move-in Day,” so I knew what to expect.
Leaving a piece of us
My first thought was to give him a nice picture of the entire family. I envisioned the picture sitting atop a place of honor on his desk or near his bed, but I remembered that he has tons of pictures. Plus I’m the one who likes pictures, not him.
I shifted to more inspirational content. I considered giving him a plaque with Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” stenciled on it. You know the one:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
—First stanza of “If” by Rudyard Kipling
I thought long and hard, but I could see my son giving me a look that said: “A poem. You’re giving me a poem.”
In the same vein, I thought about leaving him a framed quote with a saying from everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Albert Einstein; Confucius to Gandhi; John Lennon to Bob Marley and a million other people. I zeroed in on the simple advice William Penn, an early advocate for democracy and religious freedom, once offered on his life.
“I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness or abilities that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
—William Penn, early Quaker and founder of the province of Pennsylvania
But it still didn’t feel right.
A memory to keep
My son has been working a lifetime for this moment. He’s excited about the opportunity and wants to make the most of it. My son and I will text and talk frequently in the months ahead. My wife and I may even get the occasional FaceTime call or even a request for a weekend dinner, but we’re not expecting our son to have a lot of free time to spend with us until Christmas break or even next summer.
I know he’ll be fine and we’ll adapt in time, but I still wanted to leave him something special. I considered giving him a compass or a map with our hometown circled in bright red pen, so that he’ll always be able to navigate his way home.
I thought too about an expensive pen and stationary so that he could write home. (People still write letters, right?) But, he doesn’t say much in his texts now, how would I ever convince him to write a lengthy letter?
I next considered getting him a new bible. I liked the idea of being able to highlight in bright yellow pen: the Ten Commandments or Jesus Christ’s Beatitudes.
“He began to teach them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.’
—Matthew 5: 2-6
I loved the idea and even started to look at different versions to buy. What better weapon to have in your back pocket when you’re struggling or need a pick-me-up? But, then it hit me that he already has one.
I moved onto the possibility of making him a playlist of different songs with words of wisdom on how to lead a full, productive, and exciting life. In a matter or minutes, song after song jumped to mind, including Journey’s “Don’t stop believing,” Tim McGraw’s “Live like you’re dying,” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “A Simple man.”
“And be a simple kind of man,
Be something you love and understand,
Baby, be a simple kind of man,
Oh won’t you do this for me, son, if you can.”
—”A Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
I went round and round with the ideas. In the end, when it came time to say goodbye, I gulped one last time, told him that we loved him and gave him a big hug.