I wondered if I would cry — could cry — when my son graduated from college over the weekend. Water turned out to be the theme of the day.
At the interfaith baccalaureate service in the morning, where my son would sing with the Adelphian choir, a series of students shared their reflections one after another. They told personal stories, stories of coming out and trying to find a new way to relate to God and find a community, stories of hope lost and hope regained. They spoke with whatever vocabulary fit their understanding of Divine Mystery. They sang and prayed for others.
We sat there, parents and family, faculty and staff, students and friends, listening and reflecting. For an hour, we became a community.
The morning light flooded through the chapel windows from the east, bathing my son’s face in gold. To close the service, the Adelphians sang Stephen Paulus’ “The Road Home.”
“Oh where is the road that will lead me home?”
The song took me back to that day in October 2012 when my “other mother” teetered between life and death. As her children and grandchildren gathered around her bedside, my best friend and I sang that song. And as we sang, “Miss Ann” slipped to the other side, to the place where her faith guided her, where her husband and mother awaited.
Four months later, a small group sang it at my father’s memorial.
As I listened to the choir, I could almost see my mother and father hovering. Was it a daydream? Was it my heart’s longing that brought me their image? Were they really there? It felt as if they were.
The dam burst, and I cried. My stomach pulsed with withheld sobs as I cried tears of joy for my son’s safe passage, of happiness for the moment of reunion with my parents, of compassion for the tribulations that many of the students had experienced.
Water turned out to be the abiding symbol of the day. Rather than the typical, somewhat overly long commencement ceremony, in which one waited for one name out of more than 600, Yahweh (for it had to be the angry God of old) decided to interrupt things with an outburst of Biblical proportions.
The wind picked up as the class representative gamely soldiered on with her remarks. The skies above us swirled in a circular pattern. If we had been in the Midwest, we would have been heading for storm shelters.
Next came the rain. It did not “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.” Each was a swollen bubble that splattered into inch wide rings where it struck heads, blouses and trousers. Within minutes, those initial marks were obscured by rivulets from the flood that pounded the crowd on the field.
Then came hail and lightning. Running through sideways rain that rapidly filled gutters, those who didn’t leave in the initial downpour – the hardy families who were determined to hear that one name called – evacuated to the field house. We sheltered for nearly an hour before university officials made the call to resume the ceremony.
This morning, the words of “The Road Home” returned to me:
After wind, after rain, when the dark is done, as I wake from a dream in the gold of day
Through the air there’s a calling from far away, there’s a voice I can hear that will lead me home.
Rise up, follow me, come away is the call
With love in your heart as the only song
There is no such beauty as where you belong
Rise up, follow me, I will lead you home