The Faces of a Yet Better Tomorrow
The Faces of a Yet Better Tomorrow
I sat on the couch in the meeting room where the reception was being held. There was no room for me at the table. As I started to dine on pasta and other Italian standards, a young girl sat down beside me. Crystal would turn thirteen the next day. A radiantly beautiful young woman. And she apparently had made up her mind to engage this old man in conversation. In the course of the next twenty minutes I discovered that she is planning to be a doctor. Her grades in a top suburban school system are all "A's". But what impressed me most was her social maturity, to be able to engage someone seven times her age in an intelligent conversation, holding her own with a guy who has been there and done that over and over again. "You've got to think it before you can be it," is the clichéd wisdom I offered her affirming her medical ambition. True if familiar for any future we plan for ourselves. Crystal will be an excellent doctor... a geriatrician maybe.
This exchange with a member of the coming generation led me to think about similar encounters I've lately had. Four other "faces of tomorrow" will follow with brief commentary. Each of them has at one time or another engaged me in conversation, usually at their instigation.
Not exactly so with Mei, a second generation Vietnamese young woman who gave a pedicure to Barbara. I got one too, but from Mei's older co-worker. Yes, yes, in my eighty-fifth year I have yielded to the aches of bending over my feet and trying to clip toenails that seem to be made of oak bark. Mei was home from the University of Colorado for the summer. She had just finished her first year. She plans to major in physics and work in that rarified realm of human endeavor... a career enabled by the clipping toenails of octogenarians.
In my travels when I come upon people like Mei, I identify. Her parents, like my mother for me, came to this country to make life better for their children. Which meant, in my mother's dream, that Bobby should get a college education and be a minister of the Gospel. Mei didn't tell me her parents' dream for her. But with that winning smile and eyes brimming with intelligence, I think I can accurately guess. Like the protagonist of the recent hit movie, "Brooklyn," Mei believes, despite the cries to the contrary in this political season, that America is the land of opportunity, where children from a war-torn world can follow in the footsteps of Einstein.
Or your own mother and father. So will it be for Xavier, a child of Puerto Rican-Americans from the Bronx and schooled, mom was, in a small Ohio liberal arts college and a New England medical college. Xavier has recently been accepted for admission to the same medical school. He and our grandson Henry argue heatedly, when not watching "Game of Thrones" quietly, about everything, the way only best friends could. Xavier is well-qualified to engage this old man in conversation, since he, prospective M.D., daily tends his own grandfather and, not that long ago, had his own bichon frise. He is intelligent and a careful listener, two of the most important qualities I find essential in anyone who is going to advise me about arthritis or high blood pressure.
My great-grandchildren, however, will favor, among this group of five, Carly. She is a senior at the university and aims to teach Spanish in a secondary school. Her winning smile and red hair should keep the otherwise rowdy boys in her classroom pining for her approval. Like our grandchildren, she is a carefully nurtured product of the suburban middle class. That category (suburban middle class) is frequently the target of snarky sociologists under the impression that nothing good can come out of "middletown" where conformity is the rule and originality stifled. Suburban product that I am and have cultivated for two other generations, I would insist that it is the Carlys, those who are strivers armed with hopes and discipline, to whom the future belongs, praise God. Which brings me to the final face of five for the future, belonging to another suburban striver, now in the opening years of a lifelong career of service. James wrestles with the missteps of the predecessors who ran a church camping program, if not into the ground, then into the woods. The twenty-nine year old graduate of a small New England college, he has steadfastly resisted the voices, including mine, who think he should consider the pastorate for his vocation. The church, Protestant and Catholic, sorely needs smart, disciplined, engaging "people persons" in the pulpit and parish. This thought informs the next essay I am preparing, that as hungry as Wall Street and academia may be to recruit the brightest and the best, the church is far more desperately impoverished of ordained leadership of magna cum laude quality. I really shouldn't lay this claim on James again... but, hey, I am writing about the future, am I not?
So I conclude with this benedictory brag.