Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It Would Take a Miracle...

A young man at the intersection of youth and adulthood; a mother with a firm grasp of the car keys - I'll admit, I was clinging...for dear life. 

Two generations were about to collide.

When I was a kid, a Driver’s Education class was prerequisite to driving solo. The course came complete with gruesome accident footage and scare tactics that to this day are still on the job.

They’ve hung out stubbornly in the back seat for over 30 years shouting warnings and whispering cautious reminders to keep me in line. Back then, we were required to log time behind the wheel, and training came within a closed course, behind a tall chain link fence and a gate we had to personally shut before we began. 

When we finally ventured into unwitting neighborhoods, we drove slowly under the watchful eye of an instructor whose quick reflexes brought his right foot down hard and fast on that ingenious (and often-used) passenger-side brake pedal. Only after we’d proven ourselves would that incredibly cool sidekick known as Driving Freedom call us by name to sink into the coveted seat behind the wheel. It took years to develop a know-it-all invincibility.

Ah, but a different day had dawned; I had a son now. My 15 year old was still clutching his learner’s permit and he let me know that the driving habits of my past were just a testimony to the inferior hand/eye coordination of a pre-video game generation.  He was The Driving Master - so he boasted. That was... until he drove up the driveway, through the closed garage door, crashing to a halt halfway through his bedroom wall.  

I was riding shotgun that afternoon when the house unexpectedly approached at Mach II. The G-force plastered my head back and peeled my eyes wide, as the door, the wall and everything in-between went by in a blur, then crumbled around us. A prolonged and piercing scream (which I usually reserve for monster roller coaster rides) accompanied me as we were propelled through a barrier we hadn't intended to break. Thankfully, the only injuries sustained were to my son’s delusions of grandeur. 

In the wake of 4 crushed bicycles, downed shelving and the lifetime contents of his closet strewn across the bedroom... a head-in-hands humility emerged from my young driver.  Small consolation, but I found it an odd comfort as I sat in shock surrounded by rubble.  


It was a somehow reverent moment. I knew I might just be witnessing history. I paused to drink it in. Then I squeezed it tightly and shoved it deep into my heart as if to ensure its memory for all time. That moment spent reflecting on my son's humility was tainted by only a few lingering nervous twitches. It turns out though that those twitches have understandably dogged me all these years, and more so with each trip home from the DMV as successive siblings earned similar degrees in driving freedom.  

Watching humility do it’s hard work on my son’s heart was sweet, but it didn't change the fact that I was up to my windshield in garage door and parked in the bedroom closet. It took weeks to dislodge my heart from my throat and months to clear the ruins, but darned if within days the “I know everything about driving” attitude hadn’t raised its teenage head again! Oh boy, opportunities for disaster loomed as near as his 16th birthday. There were miles to go before I’d sleep.  

A generation had passed since my own rite of passage had set me free, and now it was calling again. The garbage collectors had barely cleared the debris when Freedom arrived for my son. It pulled into the driveway, knocked on the door and handed me a bundle of motherly fears to lie awake with at night. My firstborn had made it to his 16th birthday, scored an impressive driver’s license photo and was to be unleashed solo upon an unsuspecting public with a sometimes confused and often heavy right foot. To his credit, he’d logged his miles, made mistakes, endured my driving scrutiny and lectures galore; he was ready, even if I wasn’t. Still, valuable advice poured from my lips like premium from the pump.  

I was standing between my son and a huge milestone on the road to adulthood, and I was about to bite my nails to the nubs. There were dangers ahead. Worst-case scenarios tempted me to cringe and throw his life into park, but I knew there would be other defining moments ahead (would there ever!) and I had to let him head out and meet them. Besides, if I stood in his way, I stood only to gain a really big guy in the passenger seat for the rest of my life, switching radio stations like a man on a couch wields a remote. Better let him go.

So I relaxed my grip to hand over the keys. I masked the shaking in my hand by jingling the keys and beaming my best June Cleaver smile, an anxious-reality hidden just beneath the surface. This was a big day, one of us letting go and cringing inside, the other excitedly embracing a wide-open future. Protective instincts hovered, but the greater mission to empower my son as a responsible and independent young man steadied my hand. 

As the keys changed hands in a ceremonial rite of passage, I waved goodbye, and he drove away to do the first thing any 16 year old with a new license should do... an errand for his mother. Flanked by parental pride to my left and maternal caution to my right, I kept both eyes fixed on the white Honda Civic as it distanced itself from the safety of home. He pulled up to the stop sign at the end of the block to make the left turn. He stopped fully and used his turn signal... I was so proud. Freedom took my oldest out of earshot and my line of sight.

I went to my room to pray.

If you’ve ever seen the classic film, the Princess Bride, you might remember the two elderly and eccentric characters, Miracle Max and Valerie.  They’d created a miracle pill to help the battered and mostly-dead Wesley, the leading man, save Buttercup, the Princess Bride, from the despicable Prince Humperdink.  The couple bids farewell to Wesley and his companions as they stumble off against unlikely odds to battle the forces of evil, overcome the enemy and win Buttercup's freedom.  

Standing together in the doorway, the old couple, enthusiastically wave their goodbyes as they parlay hope and confidence, calling out: “Have fun stormin’ the castle!”  Without missing a beat,  and through still smiling lips, Valerie says in a voice only Max can hear; “Think it’ll work?”, “to which he knowingly replies, “It would take a miracle.” They continue to smile and wave with fervor, and the heroes, bolstered by the couple’s “show” of faith, make their way through the darkness toward their feat of bravery and ultimately victory.   

Like the old couple, we wave from the doorway as our teenagers drive away, and in our case, as our young Marines stand in formation ready to deploy, separated from us and beyond our protective care, facing the unimaginable. We offer our most confident smiles, but our hearts are in a knot, and we’re praying for miracles. 

Be they first time drivers or first time warriors, new challenges they've never imagined await our children. Danger and battle scars are possible beyond deployment day, but they are possible just beyond the driveway as well. The world is no safe haven and thankfully our Marines are willing to do something about it. 

We stand alongside every mother and father who must let go, and in a way, we stand alone and apart because we watch our young men go to battle. That raises the stakes for us and raises the miracle factor. We’ve done our part though, and now we must let our sons, husbands and the Marine Corps do theirs. They are well-trained and they are strong. And as C.S. Lewis implied in "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe", God may not be safe, but he is good. And just as I did the day my son drove out of sight and alone for the first time, I must continue to do the only valuable thing I can do for him... go to that good God and pray.

With a smile on their lips and a prayer in their heart, they too will one day stand in the doorway, take a deep breath and wave as their own child steps out to face the world, just as we have.  

And the miracle will go on...

"Course he isn't safe, but he is good. He's the King I tell you."


  1. Liz I just love the stories you tell looking forward to the next one

  2. WOW you had me laughing and reliving our own sons adventures. Thanks Liz