It finally happened.
Last week, standing beside our van parked in front of her dorm on College Street at Yale University (a Hallmark card moment if there ever was one), it was my fateful turn to say goodbye to our oldest child as she transitions to college.
I tried summoning up some words of wisdom, or even something profound to say. It’s not like this moment caught me (an admittedly slow learner) by surprise. “This is it,” I thought, heaving a weary sigh instead of taking a deep manly breath. “Better make this count.” I was ready.
So how did it go down? Here’s the dramatic play-by-play:
Her: “Bye, Dad.”
Me: “Bye, _________ I love you.” [Name withheld to protect the innocent or easily embarrassed.]
Her: “I love you too.”
[Insert potentially obligatory forced hugs.]
So what happened? Is this really all that I could muster? The first of our five precious children transitioning to college (and not just any college, mind you, but [ahem] Yale, which is, in spite of our seemingly pervasive virtual connectedness, a world away from Minneapolis), and I had nothing but a mere “goodbye” and “I love you”? Adding insult to injury, by training and profession I’m a pastor with a deep appreciation for Jonathan Edwards, the namesake of my daughter’s college. One would think loquacious Puritan-laced vocabulary would naturally fall like fresh dew from my lips. But no. One could chalk it up to fatigue due to the long drive, or the many hours spent acquiring things for her dorm room, or simply the trauma that comes with letting go (or trying to let go) of my first child as she embarks on this next biggish step in her life. But I had no words.
And then, hours later while emotionally torturing myself, I remembered.
I remembered visiting Yale’s Jonathan Edwards College (my daughter’s assigned college, hereafter JE) the afternoon before our goodbyes for the first time. Unashamedly, I was like a giddy school child, wandering the vacant halls wide-eyed at all of the Edwards paraphernalia. In the copy room I stumbled upon two large cardboard boxes. I reached in and beheld a treasure of very plain 50/50 poly-cotton grey sweatshirts with the front green-emblazoned, quite simply, “Jonathan Edwards.” Trembling, I discreetly tucked one of them under my arm and left the room, which my loving wife then made me rightfully return. I e-mailed a faculty member with begging words to acquire one of them as a lasting memento. Her searing reply? The sweatshirts are for the custodians. The custodians?! No disrespect to the custodians, but I would have really appreciated one of those sweatshirts during frigid Minnesota winters. Instead, I’ll have to wait to get my JE gear later in the year as a Christmas present. Or better yet, maybe I could be an honorary JE custodian for a day. (Please?)
But back to my story. While descending the main stairwell in JE, I came upon the following Edwards quote etched in a not-so-
discreet 10 x 4 feet thick glass placarded on the wall for all to see:
I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas,…be full of images of divine things, as full as a language is of words; and that the multitude of those things that I have mentioned are but a very small part of what is really intended to be signified and typified by these things: but that there is room for persons to be learning more and more of this language and seeing more of that which is declared in it to the end of the world without discovering all.
(From Edwards’ Typological Writings, p. 152.)
So what’s the takeaway? If I could modify my parting words to my daughter, along with “goodbye” and “I love you” I would also tell her to remember. Remember Edwards’ words of divine things, of persons “learning more and more of this language and seeing that which is declared in it to the end of the world.” I would tell her that this will be my ongoing prayer for her during her years at Yale. In short, by God’s grace may my daughter become the person Edwards describes: one who has the room to learn, see, and, more importantly, love this divine language, and the Giver of it, “more and more.”
Even at Yale.