Are we there yet…?

As a youngster, our family traveled often and occasionally for long periods of time. My dad worked in the Federal government and he got immense amounts of time off (or so it seemed). He would save up a lot of that time and every three years we’d take an extended vacation. I remember while traveling as a kid that I was continually asking, “Are we there yet?” I suffered for asking that question. By the fifth hour of the trip my parents were ready to drop me off at the nearest Stuckees (remember Stuckees?). “Yeah , Mike, this is where we we’re going (winking at each other). Now you run in to the boy’s room and we’ll be right here when you get out.”

They didn’t really do that. They were good parents. But, I’m sure they felt like it. It’s funny how the gifts that we give to our folks are given back to us, years later. Now, when we’re all watching a movie, Justin frequently asks what amounts to, “How’s the movie end, Dad?” It’s really the same question I asked years ago: “Are we there yet?”

It’s human nature to define our lives as though it is a story: Beginning, Middle, and End. It’s a human need to try to make sense of where we are in the process of life, how far we are away from the terminus, and how it will all work out. As I give my son a hard time for asking how the movie ends, I realize that even now, at my age, I often ask, “Are we there yet?”

I see my son growing up, and myself growing older. I see my Dear Dad saying Goodbye in some significant ways. It brings tears to my eyes. I wonder how the story will end. “Are we there yet?”

I wonder if I will live to see my son graduate from High School? From college? Get married? Have a child or two? Will he pilot a plane in some future war? Will he serve in our country’s military (actually, he’s already in Jr. ROTC and in the Civil Air Patrol at age fifteen). I’m very proud of all he’s doing. But I’m also wary of it. Scared, in my own way.

I spent the last several months awaiting a recent trip to my parents. When we planned it, it seemed so far away. But, as is common within the slippery walls of time, the trip was here and over before I knew it. Somewhere during our time there, it occurred to me that at the rate we are able to see my folks, and at the rate that things are changing for my dad, the time I have with him is very limited.

Suddenly, Are we there yet is no longer being four hundred and eighty miles away from my grandfather’s home at eight years of age. It’s driving down Indiana Avenue in Salt Lake and nearing his front door. Suddenly, we’re ringing his bell.
And, suddenly, we are all older. We take a deep breath, we sleep a little longer, and the childhood vacation is over, school is starting up again, we have new teachers, we’re saying goodbye.

Fall induces some sorrow in me. It is, very existentially, a way of saying, “There’s no more point in asking are we there yet?” Summer’s already come and gone. Some important part of life is over.

I arise early in the mornings to go to the hospital - about four. At that hour, the stars are often breathtaking. I’m picking out more constellations these days. I never had the time to do that as a child. I let Jeffie and Jillie do their business. I tell Jillie to hurry it up. She continues to walk around in circles, telling me in her own way that “We’re not there yet - and I’m going to take my time getting there.” I observe their positioning and make sure they get they’re work done. I rub their heads and they nuzzle me back affectionately. The stars don’t care about me being there. I’m nothing really, in the world. This mystery - that we all feel ourselves to be so much a part of the story - yet we are a less than a drop in the proverbial bucket - amazes me and captures my fascination. All around me, new stars are being born, old stars are collapsing in on themselves. I can look above and not even begin to count the stars. How can I complain about the passing of time and life? It is the way of all things. Who am I to complain? Maybe the baleful cry of whales is an appropriate anthem for such mysteries?

As a new hospital chaplain some fifteen years ago, I covered the hospital deep nights on the weekends. I remember the fall nights then, as well. Some nights I would care for three or four families who had a loved one dying. The heart was heavy. When it came time to leave, I had to pass over a skywalk. But before I did, on those nights when I had a lot of deaths, I would pass the nursery and see all the newborns. Then I’d walk over the skywalk. The sun was just coming up with it’s beautiful copper and azure tints just popping over the curvature of earth. Somehow, it brought peace, and a short half-hour later, gentle sleep, knowing that as some folks were leaving, others were joining us. I hoped that in the coming and going, both would find peace and happiness.

“Are we there yet?” We’re always there - we often just don’t realize it, or take advantage of it.

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