The first of the lasts begin for many

College goodbye to Becky’s youngest, 2012 Stanford.

College goodbye to Becky’s youngest, 2012 Stanford.

It’s my favorite story for this time of year. Summer’s edge is pushing into the promised routines of fall, reminding me of my father’s tale about giving directions, a skill he considered an art that few mastered. Some tell too little, others too much, and some are downright confusing.

One day a gentleman was sitting comfortably on a sidewalk bench. A stranger in the small town stops his car, rolls down the window and asks directions to a certain business establishment.

“No problem,” says the old fellow, pointing in the direction the car was headed. “Just go to the last stop light and turn left.”

The motorist thanked him and moved forward a few yards before hitting his brakes. Although the directions sounded simple, the question must have dawned on him, “How do you know which is the last stop light?”

This time of year is filled with “last stop lights.” Some are more evident than others.

“This is the last time in my bed,” my niece Snap-chatted me a few days ago, her wide eyes staring up from her pillow of blonde nested in her bed of blue. I sensed both excitement and sadness in the seven-second selfie that quickly disappeared. The next day she moved into her dorm where more Snap-chats revealed the moment by moment transformation of the Spartan blocks of functionality into a warm and comfortable student studio. I spied remnants of her home accenting her fresh bold start of coral and teal. Her new world was created swiftly, ready for exploration.

The drama of life slips by softly, Dad said. Very softly. You barely sense that days are turning to months and months turning to years. The mechanics, logistics and actions necessary for bringing up children often clutter the real moments of true joy. Sometimes we become so involved with the scaffolding of life that we fail to see the cathedral of life we’re trying to build.

There’s no announcement of Act I, Act II, or Act III, Dad contended. The scenes of the drama change but the change is so gradual that you hardly notice.

Sometimes. Sometimes not.

Often the crossroads are clear. An acceptance letter arrives from a college a five-hour plane ride away. A job offer is extended taking nearby newlyweds to a foreign coast. Wedding vows are exchanged. New homes purchased. Dorms and apartments are furnished leaving vacant rooms and empty nests.

These crossroads are choices, decision points that create last stop lights. And when we choose them, we can celebrate the “lasts,” in preparation for the firsts.

“They are taking a Baby-moon,” my daughter told me.

“A what?”

“Baby-moon, Mom. Like a honeymoon except it celebrates their last vacation together before the baby arrives.”

I smiled as I thought of that last stop light and the many firsts ahead. “Kiss the joy as it flies,” the poet suggests. Squeeze every fleeting moment and hold every joy as close as you can.

For so many this time of year, the first of the lasts have begun.

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at