When I was twelve I went with my father to JFK to get the family cat. We were staying at a cheap motel (my dad is very frugal) outside of Fort Dix New Jersey about an hour from New York and the trip into the city and to a big airport was an opportunity for a minor adventure of sorts. It was already very late and we had just flown in from Germany that day, but my mom wanted the family pet and my dad was dispatched to do the job. Jet lag led my mother and sister to stay back at the motel as my dad and I went into the city for Mittens, brought over on a separate plane.
I remember the trip well, up to a point. There was the classy but dated airport with the Euro Saarinen terminal then the trip back through some not so good neighborhoods and then finally over the Hudson into Jersey. It was there I grew very tired. I remember how hard I tried to stay awake and constantly rousing myself from sleep. If I was tired, I thought my father must be too. I would stay awake in a certain empathy for him and because there was a task to do and men must do such things. Of course I was not a man.
Long before Fort Dix I was asleep as I am sure the cat was too. I do not even remember arriving back at the motel, but I am sure I slumbered well that night as I had in the car when my father did nothing other than maintain his vigilance.
The beauty of family is that it mirrors the greater things. Years after that trip I was in a conversation about inclusive language in church. Though I do not see the point of it as it is not true to the historical constructs we give God, I was not bothered by such a thing either. That was not the case with L. She was quick to chastise the mainline for ignoring the beauty of Father imagery. I don’t remember her words exactly, but she blasted society for failing to see the goodness of fathers saying her father was always good to her, often demanding discipline, but quick to defend. I had no critique of this for I could relate to it. She was right and what difference did it make that too many earthly fathers made a mockery of their calling. When they did this, they were not fathers in the truest sense of the word. But for most of us, our fathers were quick to protect and defend and to stay awake through our long nights while we slumbered in their care.
I could not stay awake that night. I do not even remember it.
I know now what it is to stay awake. I know what is to look over during the dark night to see little persons nestled in sleep while I drive through the long night. I know what it is like to have one’s sorrow and pain be great as they lull a very sick child to sleep. And I know the greater thing.
We are all children. We all slumber while our fierce Protector stays awake through our dark night.