From your very first murmur my prayer for you (well, one of many) was that you treat every day as a milestone, a span of hours at the conclusion of which you could examine and pronounce, though not too loudly, not too proudly, “Well done.”
This is a real milestone, this one, this birthday, your 16th.
I am speechless at the aggregate of days gone by and, judging from your accomplishments, staggered by the sum of all that you seem destined to achieve in the years to come. Your walls sag from the honors you’ve won on the golf course. Your shelves (and your smart phone) bulge with the images of friendship. Your bearing reflects the faith you have embraced. Your eyes speak happiness. For what else could a grandfather wish?
A better world, a better country, a better state — that’s what. You and your classmates are not getting your just due from us, we who supposedly are older and wiser but whose thinking so often is simply old and wizened, whose verities are really our vanities.
You were asking about that man I was speaking with the other morning, when your M’Amie and I joined you and your mom and dad and sister at church. Well, he’s thinking of running for public office. If he doesn’t run it will be because he can’t raise enough money and because he doesn’t want to subject his family to the stupid, ugly things that would be said about him. He is a fine fellow, serious about his loved ones and his work, and believes he has some ideas about making life better for people, especially for your generation, and the one to follow. I can’t believe he has any dark secrets. But by the time our political system (maybe I should say, our politics) gets through with him he’ll look like a monster from one of those movies your folks wisely refused to permit you. I hope he will run but I will understand if he chooses to remain on the sidelines.
I hope you won’t. Not that you necessarily should run for mayor, or for the General Assembly, or governor, or whatever; that’s your call, in time. In time, your city, your state and your country will be calling on you, and I want you to answer. You need not hold public office to do public good. There is so much to do, and so much to be done through volunteer work, extending a helping hand, aiding those who have not had the advantages your parents work so hard to see that you have. I sometimes wonder if moms and dads understand the importance of those PTA meetings. And whether so many other people understand that the sternest slogan they can shout, the clearest message they can send, is the one they deliver on election day. When the moment comes for you to choose your path, your form of service, perhaps our affairs will have been restored to something resembling sanity.
In the meantime we have this — mess — on our hands. I don’t doubt that we’ll survive it. Arkansas and the U.S.A. have weathered worse storms, though I have to admit none since you came along, not even the terrible events of the day, which began an era, that your elders refer to as 9/11; we were united, at least, at least for a few years. My concern now is for the time we are losing, the opportunities we are forsaking, because we are playing on your time and with your opportunities, my generation, which consists of so many people so dangerously certain that they are right.
Oh, but I didn’t intend to get this heavy. This is your day, these are your days; and you are absolutely positively undeniably entitled to spend them as would any other healthy teenager. So don’t let me rain on your parade. Wear those school colors with pride, keep up the good work in the classroom and, homework permitting, get in a practice round. Nothing whets an evening appetite, nor summons sleep, like nine holes in the late afternoon. Before you drift off, though, remember to give your mom and dad a little smooch, something to let them know you know what they do to give you the swell life you enjoy.
Now that you are 16, and ever sweeter, with car keys at hand, I don’t want you to enjoy it too much. I know that you know what I mean.
The other day, watching you and your sister from a distance, I wondered aloud if you two had any idea of how much I love you. “Of course,” your mom replied.
Just that one time, mom was wrong.
Well done, sweetheart, and Happy Birthday!
• • •
Steve Barnes is a native of Pine Bluff.