Yesterday afternoon, a room full of young Americans in every color young Americans appear, raised their hands and swore alike , “… So help me God”, to uphold the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Raising his right hand and swearing with them was Paul’s grandson, Levi. “… So help me God…” he swore, and passed from teenager to U. S. Army soldier in a heartbeat.
Most of them were so young! Watching my daughter-in-law’s video of the ceremony, I was again amazed and thankful for people willing to devote portions and sometimes their entire lives to the service of our country.
(I might be biased, but Levi was clearly the handsomest male in the room and will no doubt look smashing in his dress uniform.)
They swore their oaths and were duly shipped off. When Levi awoke this morning, he was in a different state and a different life. A month ago he crossed a stage and received his high school diploma: today he is a soldier in the U. S. Army.
I hope, despite the nerves and excitement, the crazy family vibe of parents and friends saying a temporary goodbye, that he was able to be truly present in the moment, that he recorded the sights and sounds of the ceremony that will forever be a point of demarcation in his life, a clear starting point for whatever comes next.
Would that every passage was so clear! Christenings, confirmations, bat mitzvahs, and quinceaneras; weddings, graduations, and funerals. Every culture creates helpful, symbolic markers along our varied paths through life. Growing up in Southern California, I tended to mark personal milestones by the most recent large earthquake or natural disaster, which is why I always know when we buried my grandfather: one week before the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. (Slightly related aside: all my Jewish relatives said the earthquake was a good sign, it meant that Papa was at rest and I’ve never figured out that logic.)
And yet, it’s often only after years and much soul searching has passed that I see other, but no less real, moments when for me everything changed, and I passed from one life to another in a moment almost ridiculously banal.
Keep your high school graduations; I think one’s actual passage from child to adult might be as devoid of fanfare as choosing to stay in and do one’s laundry on a Friday night while tackling the staggaring amount of reading one’s History professor has assigned. Sometimes, a career ends not because one was bad at it, but rather with an awareness of having nothing left to give it; one notices how a client has become a good friend over months of conference calls and working lunches; a new love is born across a fast food restaurant table, when she notices, with a bit of a start, she can no longer imagine a life without him in it.
Many are the blessings of retrospection, however much I bargain with God for prescience instead.
In the coming weeks, information will be blasting those new soldiers like a firehose. Some won’t make it through Basic Training and may struggle to find meaning for this particular passage in their lives. Unbeknownst to them today, their paths lay elsewhere. For some, the next four years will be a junction, or a stepping stone to another path. A small set of truly remarkable recruits will dedicate their careers to serving our country and us, their fellow citizens; yesterday will always be their first autonomous steps on their path through Life. Which of those, or a path I can’t even imagine, is Levi’s?
The beauty is, it’s his life to make and live. I believe he’ll be a good soldier; he’s determined, intelligent, physically fit, and in possession of a first class, loving heart. I’d want him beside me in a foxhole, and I know if he serves in a foreign country he will show the best face of the American Soldier. What will he learn, and lose, and love along his path? Levi, like all of us, has endless choices scattered along every possible path through Life, though I hope he’ll learn also that every choice has consequences, and closes doors behind him even as they open other, previously hidden ones, ahead.
Have you ever found, in retrospect, a moment where everything changed, one that maybe you didn’t see at the time? Do you ever see such passages when they’re occurring? What have you learned about yourself or others from the significant passages of your life?