Ben turned sixteen on October 20.
Sixteen by any count is a landmark year, the year in which one can drive, get a part time job, and begin to look toward college. It is a rite of passage year, a hopeful, busy, happy year.
Sixteen years ago when this first grandchild was born, we clustered about his crib and spun our dreams. No wishes given by Fairy Godmothers could have topped ours! We fairly swamped this tiny, sleeping being with hopes, aspirations, and good wishes. If we had our way, no evil thing would dare come near while good and happy events fairly smothered the road ahead of him. And of course I did what every doting grandmother would do—I made him a gift.
This gift was a cloth alphabet book. I scoured the fabric stores for suitable images for A (alligator) and B (butterfly) and so on down the line. Then I sat down and wrote what the letters meant and how they would form words that might transform the world. Words, I said, carried in them the history of civilization itself and a hope for the future, too, because through them could come a magical adventure that would never end. I ended my little homily with a heartfelt, ‘Bon voyage!”
All voyages begin with baby steps. Then come games of hide and seek and follow the leader and songs and stories told and retold… memory-makers, all! But years pass, a child grows, and let’s pretend are usurped by the magic of computer games, i-pads, and cell phones.
Sixteen years—in that young lifetime the world has turned for good— and evil. The twin towers were struck down, wars and unspeakable violence and terrible wars have stolen young lives full of promise. Tsunami, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and political chaos continue to wreak havoc.
And yet the tired old world has seen wonders, too, kindness and integrity have risen to counteract much that is evil and sorrowful. Medical miracles abound, for look, here is a man whose face was destroyed but who has been given a successful facial transplant! Progress is being made even as I write so that a special exoskeleton can allow the paraplegic to walk again someday. Once fatal, many diseases are either curable or in check, and researchers work tirelessly to conquer others. Artists of every discipline imaginable continue to create beauty while writers tirelessly spin words into magic. So many people volunteer service and time to help those less fortunate, and disasters are followed by healing outpourings of love and help.
Technology flourishes, too. In Ben’s time, there surely will be travelers to our sister planets. And—who knows? Perhaps ships, riding the winds of space, will learn the secrets of distant stars. The diamond rings of Saturn? The moons of Alpha Centauri? Oh, it is a wondrous new world that our grandson inherits.
Of course he is not thinking about any of this. Why should he? His mind is busy with a wished-for car and cash-flow from employment and—yes, school and college to come. His sixteenth year will be crowded with music and sports, books, studies and, of course, romance. So his adventure continues, and we who have held those hands when he took his first steps can only watch and hope that he will be always safe and well.
Bon voyage, Ben, with love.
In this room you took
Your very first baby steps
And stood, unaided!