He’s a father I’ve known for some years, a lawyer, a father of two boys and two girls.
On his way out, leaving for good, he handed me a book I had once lent him – Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner.
I said no, keep it as a gift, please, let me sign it for you.
I wrote a few words including Joy on Your Journey because this is what I often write whenever I sign certain books for the simple reason that we are all on a journey and if we can’t wish joy for our friends what can we wish for them?
My friend wasn’t surprised – he knew Buechner was a voice in my own life – and he repeated the book’s title and then he said in a matter-of-fact way that all he could hear now in his life was white noise, a real cacophony of static and precious little more.
We said our last goodbyes and I walked away and a few minutes later at my own door I felt a heaviness and emptiness, a sadness especially for my son Jon because in recent months Jon had played pretty well every waking moment, when not in school, with my friend’s two boys.
But these boys were going on a plane back to their home in Georgia. Extended family anxiously waited for them there, all the more anxious because of recent security threats here.
So for the moment my family has been left as the last expatriate family at this African university that we’ve called home for most of the past 10 years.
At one point there were no fewer than seven expatriate families with well over a dozen kids here, a collection of Americans, mostly, plus us as the token Canadians, and a Brit also – she had married a Minnesotan, a theology professor who I would pray together with, something I also later picked up with an architect from Boston during the time he lived and worked here.
For years the kids would romp around this warm and green university campus, through the banana patches from one friend’s house to the next, playing, laughing, fooling, being themselves, then to the park across from our house, up the mango tree, down for some baseball or hockey or whatever else came to mind.
But there is a time, a season for everything, and this is especially true in this particular line of overseas work. Children get older and family needs, especially for schooling, change, or money runs out, or the call of loved ones back home gets so earnest and loud that bags get packed, goodbyes are said, books are given as gifts.
In this, it was a hard week around here, even as there were rays of light too. “My presence will go with you … be strong and courageous …”
And then yesterday the children came home with so many flowers that every room of the house got brightened up. Their teacher, a homeschooling teacher hired for just a couple of weeks – had taken them to her rose farm.
Not only this, but down from the farm is a corn chip factory also owned by said teacher and her husband, that produces these Ugandan chips called Gorillas, bags given to my children in such volume that the kids could get smothered in an avalanche of them.
Of course they have to share now, which is what’s unfolding today, Saturday, lots of sharing with several friends from my kids’ Kampala school who today were here, running, laughing, hiding, having a good time, this all before going to a local pool where they, in the pouring African rain, had it all the more.
Even though the way is long for such a visit – about an hour to our house – these kids surely know a good thing when they see it.
So do I.