This weekend my little girl is flying off to Australia for a year. We are not looking forward to missing her. We are also very excited about what GOD is cooking up for her down under.
One of the most remarkable features about Alana is the way she looks. NO, no, not her appearance. I mean the way she looks at the world through her clear blue eyes. When she was born – after we all got out of the delivery room and settled – I visited her in the nursery. It was just like in the movies, the proud papa looking through the window for his daughter among rows of new babies. As I scanned them, they were either screaming or sleeping. Except for this one baby. She was just quietly blinking and observing. She had a little knit in her brow. That was Alana.
In those first years I could take Alana with me to an evening board meeting. She would sit quietly on my knee through the whole time - studying the faces around the table. People were surprised by her quiet attention span.
We could take her to a movie with us and be sure that we wouldn’t disturb the other viewers. We could take her anywhere so we took her everywhere with us. She saw boardrooms and soup kitchens. From subways to mountaintops, she had a good look around.
Alana got a little more restless as she got older. I still took her to meetings. But now I needed to bring along a pencil and a pad of paper. She’d sit on the floor drawing page after page after page of what she saw through those eyes of hers.
After a late movie or meeting or party, on the way home in the car, she’d regularly ask “Where are we going now?” And when we’d explain it was time to go home – she’d wail with disappointment. “LET”S GO SOMEWHERE ELSE!” making her parents feel like old party poopers when the night was still so young.
One of my most cherished memories is holding her in my arms as a big girl – almost too big to carry – and swaying to the beat of worship music at our beloved Danforth Baptist Church.
By the time Alana was a pre-teen, Carol became allergic to that musty old building. So Sunday mornings became father-daughter times. We’d grab a breakfast bagel at the shop just down from the church – toasted cheddar and onion with butter – and munch on them as we hurried off to be late with everyone else at that church.
Afterwards we’d stroll the Danforth. Sometimes we’d go down in the evening and walk for blocks and blocks and back again. Just passing the time with all the other passers-by.
Then I got a job Sunday mornings in Bobcaygeon. Alana wasn’t a girl any more. She became a teenager and grew into all her wonderful green beauty. She produced art that hangs in our kitchen and living room. She was a baby sitter and Sunday school teacher and a dedicated student. We’d catch her deep in thought studying or painting or just thinking – with that same knit brow she was born with.
It was in these years that Alana also got in touch with all the ways that I’d ruined her life. And she became so much smarter than her dad.
When it came time for me to do my duty and start bugging her about getting a job. “How are you going to pay for university Alana?”
She patiently explained to me that she was going to put all those minimum wage hours into school work instead - and get scholarships. And she did. Her biggest scholarship was because of her community service work.
When she went back to Toronto to go to university I put a photo of her on my computer desktop. It’s a great black and white shot that captures a moment of little four year old girl rapture. Her hands are together caught in a clap, shoulders hunched – you how little kids do that when there’s a great little secret they’ve discovered and are sharing it with you? It’s as if she’s just squeezed pure joy out between her fingers. Her eyes sparkle with it.
Maybe that little girl memory got me through those teen years when she pushed me away, broke my heart, had no trouble telling me what a phony I was, pointing out all my faults in case I wasn’t aware. She was just putting into words all my own guilty thoughts.
Sure I was a good parent. As good as I knew how to be at least. It was all on the job training - no chance to practice – making it up as we went along. While I got to see many moments of joy in Alana, I also had to witness her confrontations with harsh realities.
Like when she fell through the glass table that I knew was cracked but was sure would be “fine”. The emergency room doctor cleaned up the buckets of blood and told us there’d be scars. Those marks on the back of her leg are just the visible scars of my failures to protect her from a world of pain.
Here’s where you say “Don’t be so hard on yourself allan”. Yeah, yeah. I might balance out my mistakes by taking credit for some of who she is.
I have my moments of pride to be sure. But my parents have taught me something about that. Just recently someone said to my Dad “you must be so proud of your children.”
“No” he replied - refusing to claim that emotion. Instead, in customary manner, he put his pride where it belonged. “We’re just very thankful.”
I’m trying to be okay about letting her go. Lately I’ve just been watching her. When we talk we often seem to run into tangles. So mostly I just watch her. It’s like I’m trying to soak her up. Trying to notice all the little details about her that I can store away – something to hold onto I guess.
Her brow is knit quite a bit lately. She’s got a big leap ahead of her.
A few weeks ago I replaced Alana’s little girl photo for another. I realized that I could no longer keep her so small. That little girl is gone. There’s a young woman where that little girl once was.
The new photo I snapped last summer in the back yard. She needed it to send along with her application to the Hillsong Leadership College in Australia. The photo captures the flower of a happy young woman green leaves surrounding her. She has gold hoops in her ears, set within her chestnut curly mane. A blue scarf highlights the blue of her smiling eyes. And in one eye – I noticed with a closer look – there is a tear.
Maybe it was just a fleck of dust from the air that watered her eye. Each time I fire up my computer now – I take a closer look – to see that tear - if it’s still there. For me - it’s a tear that we share. A tear for the childhood lost. For the end of that relationship where she relied on me to interpret her world. When she absorbed all the lessons and the stories and the lectures I could come up with. And she absorbed more than I wanted her to. She absorbed what is ugly and scared and petty in me right along with what is brave and decent.
Now it’s up to her to find her own balance of things. On the other side of the world she’ll squeeze out the sponge and sort out what’s what. She’ll decide in her own heart what to keep and what to toss about the way I see this world. Learn to tell it just the way she sees it. Through the eyes God gave her.
She’s a keen observer. Always has been. She’s the only Reeve in the bunch who doesn’t need specs. I look forward to the fruit she’ll offer the world in her time. I know it’ll be true and from her heart – from that place of secret rapture - squeezed out from all the life she can clap together. From that deep wrinkle in her brow that God put there.