Humidity, like a magnet, pulling the beads of sweat from the pores of my skin. The fireflies are out in force, dancing to the rhythm of their own summer evening house party. It’s the longest evening of the year, and I’m sitting on a hard bench placed on the edge of a grassy knoll that covers the front lawn of the University, only a stone’s throw from my cottage. Summer session students stroll lazily across campus and down University Avenue, no doubt to escape the pressure of the classroom and the heat of the day. They are not as frantic and frenzied as they might be during any other semester in the year, but in a state of learning nevertheless. I ponder the history and grandeur of this institution that Thomas Jefferson birthed centuries ago. I wonder if I missed out on the experience of attending a traditional college on some historic campus, becoming part of a student body that thought they had the whole world figured out before age twenty. The elementary freedom and wisdom of youth, incurred at this pause in life: the undefined space between adolescence and, perhaps, the hum drum of a working world. But I did things differently. I exchanged my graduation cap and gown for fatigues and a helmet, responding to the call of Uncle Sam and the mystery of the Cold War’s climax. I grew up quickly. I soldiered by day and studied by night. And life rolled on by. And not too long after I had decocooned from boy to man, something else rolled on by: A baby carriage containing this beautiful bouncing little girl named Mariah. A questioningly curious Mariah: yearning for life and on a constant quest for meaning, justice, acceptance and laughter. And she changed my life forever. In an instant my identity had transformed me from who I thought I was. And that instant defines who I am today.
What a joy it was to be your father, Mariah. What an amazing God-given miracle. And now, 16 years later, I sit on this hillside, outside the Rotunda, sipping an evening espresso. I wonder what decisions you will make in the next 16 years, nay, the next year ahead of you. What university or walk of life will woo you? What calling or vocation will expose you to both the right and wrong of this consuming world outside your present bubble? What kind of woman will you become? The choice is yours, to some extent. I hope and pray you make healthy choices. Good choices. And that you learn from your mistakes…and mine. I also pray that you enjoy every amazing something that becomes your year of Sweet Sixteen: driving, working, advancing to the Junior class, and taking on so many more adult life responsibilities. I pray always that you will one day live a faith that is clear and real to you, that you will exude a heart that is golden, and possess a peace that no man can take away and that surpasses all understanding.
As 7/11 loom near, I wish you a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARIAH!
Loving you still, Loving you always,