I wasn’t expecting to be in a parade today.
In fact, I was only trying to donate some old clothes to Savers, but that is not how things turned out.
Sometimes we welcome the unexpected; sometimes we decidedly do not. I’ve found, however, that there is always something to be gained when life surprises us.
This morning, I left church at the usual time, that is, when it was over: I needed to get rid of some clothing and shoes the lads no longer needed, so I headed over to the mall, fully anticipating to ditch and drive.
I had a house to clean, a lawn to mow, and I wasn’t about to be sucked into the vortex of exchange: dropping one of bag of things only to shop for another.
When my boys were little and we lived on the Upper Peninsula, we had a tradition every summer of driving down to St. Ignace to attend an antique-and-tricked-out car parade.
I think I loved it as much as they, all those shiny machines meticulously, lovingly restored. We would sit on the curb and eat ice cream and watch them glide by, content in the simplicity of the moment.
Later, whenever we would see a similar car out on the high-and-byways, one of us would yell “Parade car!” and all would try to grab a glimpse before it hurtled past. Sometimes, stuck in a car seat, a boy would miss it, and I don’t know who felt worse, him or me.
To this day, my youngest can point out a Bentley or an Audi-aught-whatever or a turbo-charged something-or-other in a lane of traffic going the opposite direction at 70 miles an hour. He’s an auto-savant, and no number of Top Gear episodes watched with him can catch me up to his skill.
I do still appreciate a good parade car, though, and so was pleasantly surprised when, turning the last corner to Savers, I saw a whole parking lot full of them, including my favorite, the Mustang convertible 1964 1/2.
Gawking, I obeyed the waving policeman and drove through the intersection worried what it might mean for my mission. It became clear soon enough.
Lining the mall road on both sides were families much like my own way-back-when, waiting for the special cars to parade past. They blocked the entrance to the drop-off for Savers two layers thick, and I didn’t have the heart to elbow through and make those little ones lose their coveted spots.
To my surprise, as I continued to drive down this lane of fans fully intending to get out of there before the mayhem truly began, they began to cheer – to wave – to stand and applaud.
I was confused.
Surely a small black Jeep with 100,000+ miles and covered in a thick veneer of New Hampshire dust didn’t deserve such accolades.
And indeed it was so: I looked in the rearview, and saw a man bedecked in an American flag onesie astride a Harley with ape-hanger handlebars positioned to start the parade.
They weren’t cheering for me; they only wanted the parade to start. It’s what they came for, what they were expecting. And I certainly couldn’t blame them: when you sit all morning out on the hot asphalt waiting to see a 1947 Studebaker, a 2016 Jeep just doesn’t cut it.
I gave onesie man – and the crowd – a big wave and headed home with two big bags of unwanted apparel still sitting in my perfectly ordinary, non-parade-able car.
I hadn’t thought of those St. Ignace parades and the little-ness of my boys in quite some time.
Two of them are men now; one is gone. Their sister is about to make me a grandmother, and I’m both so-ready and not-so-ready for that marvelous miracle.
Briefly being in that parade was a gift, totally unexpected, one that brought me to tears as I considered its weight.
I am blessed with children. I love them ferociously, unwaveringly.
I seek, if not to love, at least to understand, what they love and join them in their loving. Their little-love of parade cars moves me today as much as it did back then, as much as their first-loves and adult-dreams continue to keep me on my knees.
We are caught in the middle.
I wasn’t expecting to lose a son, or his father, or all the things that one loses when one lives a long-enough life.
And yet, the hope that remains tethers us to the crazy impossibility of God’s promise: to be together, again, for all of eternity, ten-thousand-upon-ten-thousands of years – life, life, and more life, forever and ever with a perspective that sees what we cannot see now.