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Monday, July 19, 2010

Graduation, an excruciating beauty

Rift Valley Academy is over a hundred years old. And on the day of graduation, one feels a sense of that century of faithfulness and struggle. Like any high school graduation, there are caps and gowns, smiles and tears. The students process through a crowd of relieved and proud parents. Some wave like royalty (Luke), some look shy, some look stricken by the finality of the day. There are speeches and songs and prayers. There are whoops and yells, and traditions like jumping to touch the wall above the door as you exit (Luke and his partner in line waited for a clear aisle and took a running leap) or giving the chairman of the board a bottle of coke in exchange for the diploma. In Luke's class there were two third-generation-graduates (and here we were thinking that seventeen years was sort of significant . . ). The speaker was the father of one of them, a man who was born to parents who had themselves been born in Africa, and had returned with his wife to serve there for almost two decades. He spoke from, where else, the passages we've been echoing in Joshua: be strong and courageous, don't be squeezed into being just like everyone else in the world, live boldly for the Kingdom, because it is God who goes before you. In short it was a beautiful ceremony, full of respectful backward glances at our heritage and inspiring forward godly vision. RVA is a place where dedicated staff labor year after year to parent kids who are living far from their own parents, to teach them, to prepare them for life. And perhaps the most beautiful thing of all was to see the friendships that had formed in the class of 2010. These are kids from dozens of countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, America . . who look very different from each other, and yet they have a common bond of growing up in love with this continent, in the community of saints, different from their neighbors and their parents. Though Luke only came in 11th grade (technically, he was also there for much of Kindergarten back in late '97 and early '98, but then he had a ten-year gap) he was enfolded into friendships that I hope, and believe, will last for life.
But all this beauty comes at a cost, an excruciating one, as is wont to happen down here on earth. The closer we come to truth, the more deeply the loss of such beauty cuts. One of those paradoxes that plague us in this life. So there are probably few high school graduations that are followed by as sincere and devastating a period of mourning. The very bonds which made the school experience great also make the departure very, very hard. There were many difficult goodbyes, in the parking lot, by the buses, back in Nairobi at the mission guest houses, as people left in taxis for the airport. Letters exchanged. Memories recited, one more time. Many kids leaving high school would probably be heading to college with a quorum of their acquaintances. Many would have a stable community to return to, the chance of running into old friends on a weekend or holiday. Instead these graduates come from remote regions, have parents in many countries, and are going to schools all over the world for university (Japan, Korea, Holland, Australia, Germany...). The goodbyes here seem more final.
And on graduation day, I saw that the pain of moving on is not just related to a good school, or good friends. Because the RVA high school graduates are not just leaving their school and teachers and friends, they are leaving their families and homes. They are leaving Africa. The choir sang "God bless the rains down in Africa" which led at least one of them, and many of us listening, to tears. It is sort of a cheesy 80's song, until you hear it sung by 30 or 40 kids who LOVE AFRICA and are within 12 hours of stepping onto airplanes to leave the very soil on which they have grown their whole lives, some departing for years, some forever. There is something about this place with all its crazy life and raw landscape and glaring need and injustice and hospitality and vastness that draws out the heart.
So graduation day was beautiful and painful all at the same time. We are extremely grateful to God, to the people who encouraged and advised us to send Luke, to dorm parents and coaches, classroom teachers and administrators. We are grateful that our son could learn, and learn to love to learn. Could take AP classes in the middle of Africa, could play varsity soccer and sing and make pottery, could be challenged spiritually and intellectually. Could be launched from a solid foundation to the halls of Yale. But in that thankfulness we also feel his sorrow as he goes.
Life, excruciatingly beautiful.


Debbie said...

I remember RVA graduation so well and you're so right about all the emotions involved in graduating, and then leaving "your world" never to be able to go back to the same friends, family, etc. We are having a 30 year class reunion this summer, so there are moments of reconnection and celebration of all that God continues to do.

Thanks for sharing your lives with all of us!

Sally said...

Praying for you all as you grieve and transition. Achingly painful, not well understood by most of us living here in America, this path you are on is holy ground where I know that He will meet you.

Sally Ward

Lyds said...

Your post brings tears to my eyes and memories that are so raw. I will be praying for Luke in this transition. It is not an easy one! But as I look back and think of where I am at now, I never thought as I was leaving Africa that I would ever be content in America. On graduation day I thought I was leaving my heart in Africa. But now I know that it is not so much the places I have been or will go that hold my heart but the people that I share my life with. And when those people are leaving too it is a different place when you return. It is a hard transition but as time goes by it gets better and better. And like I said its better than I ever thought it would be and I am not in Africa. My advice to Luke is to dive into friendships with people at Yale, don't hold back. I did and it took me a few years to really jump in and make great friends. I thought I had all the friends I ever wanted and I tried desperately to hold onto them but for most the distance was too much. Of course there are a few that I am still fast friends with but I wish I had put myself out there and been more vulnerable with the people I met.