Weekly Edgework #59 - August 15, 2005

Ode to a Son

By the end of this week you will be on your way to Egypt – the land of pyramids and mummies. After a short stopover in Pennsylvania for orientation, you will skip across oceans and continents to begin your one-year assignment with Mennonite Central Committee’s SALT (Serving And Learning Together) program. You will settle in on the banks of the historic Nile River – perhaps even walk in the footsteps of Moses!

How well your mother and I remember the day you first saw daylight and we named you Nelson Glen. In a few months that will be 23 years ago. We had just recently returned to Canada from our own eight-year romp beyond Canadian borders and were somewhat in a state of limbo, waiting for vocational opportunities to open up. That is how I ended up driving a truck that autumn in the potato harvest west of Portage la Prairie, here in Southern Manitoba. Your arrival kept us up most of the night. I remember that so clearly because after reporting for work the next morning, I parked the big truck at the end of the field and promptly fell asleep. The harvesters had to come wake me and invite me to join the action. It was the joke of the day, even the season. Even so, my fellow-harvesters cheered your arrival.

You were our fourth and final son to be born. Some say that four is a perfect number of sorts – you know how north, south, east and west includes just about any place on the globe. Your oldest brother, Carl, was born in that same hospital ten years earlier – before mom and I had even contemplated leaving our comfort zone in Canada. Your other two brothers, Wendell and Byron, were born abroad. Now you were completing the family back on Canadian soil. I guess we took for granted that you would simply be Canadian because you had no memory of our international experience.

But nearly a decade later you came with us to Bolivia for a one-year, interim mission assignment. I suppose that is when your interest in things international was born. By the time we returned to Canadian soil, you spoke an almost perfect Spanish and were intimately aware of the world beyond Canadian borders. Perhaps it was that year that began the spoiling process. Gradually, your mother and I began to notice in subsequent years that indeed you were spoiled with respect to a pursuit of the American Dream. You did not fit neatly into the boxes that society tried to squeeze you into. This was a source of both joy and concern – joy in knowing that you had begun to embrace the world, and concern in knowing the pain you would experience by not fitting in with the status quo.

As you moved on into your teenage years, we noticed that the prospect of making a lot of money never had much allure for you. Repeatedly you would drop money-making efforts to serve as a camp counselor for a few months in summer or for a service assignment with Mennonite Disaster Service somewhere in the wake of a hurricane, even though you needed money to go to college. You didn’t buy a car until after you were 20 years old, and then it was a Rabbit nearly as old as you. And we did not fail to notice that most of your clothes came from the local Thrift Store. A two-dollar shirt was just about right for your taste. And yet you always seemed to have money to spare. I still blush a little when I remember how you queried at times whether I was sometimes too preoccupied with money.

I know it bothered you a bit when mom or I would ask about what your plans for life were, especially if we threw in the information you already knew that by your age we were married and both teaching. You resisted the notion of settling down, of fitting in, of following a prescribed text. You needed time. Time to reflect. Time to observe. Time to read. Indeed we noticed that you surpassed both of us in terms of intellectual ability, which had brought with it its own shadow-side – you knew you could get by without disciplined study patterns. You could piece together a major paper or a sermon the night before it was due with an equanimity that I would never understand. Yet on occasion you found that this tendency to procrastinate got you into trouble. I was pleased to hear you say the other day that you felt you were more disciplined now than last year. I wonder what Egypt will do for you in this regard.

In the process of completing forms in preparation for leaving, you came across one for which you needed our opinion. What should they do with your body in the event that you would die on assignment? It makes no difference to me, you said casually. What do you want? Indeed what would we want done with the body of our youngest son? It seems to me it would involve a lot of red tape and cost a lot to bring my body home, and even then it would probably be in a sealed coffin, you noted, just as calmly. Your mom and I talked about that as we lay awake one night recently. We took note of the fact that having one’s body flown half way around the world is a prerogative belonging only to the wealthy of this world. So we are giving MCC permission to bury you in Egypt, if that becomes necessary. I think that is what you would want. And we would be honored to have your body resting in the same soil as many of Abraham’s descendents.

But of course we look forward instead to your return a year from now. Your experience in Egypt will leave an indelible impression on your soul that we promise not to try to erase. Your mom and I, together with your family and friends, will pray that your year abroad will be a stepping stone - leading you on to a life-time of service as a global Christian. Go in peace. Go with our blessing. Go with God.