Pedestals and Honor
Choosing gifts for my parents for birthdays, father’s/mother’s day and Christmases is never easy. Sometimes I find a gift that I think will show that I notice who they are and what they like. I think my mom looks lovely in red and for years now I often get her something red…anything red…for Christmas. Sometimes the gift is completely and totally a token, a symbol that I remembered the day. No matter what, no matter how tight the money, no matter the circumstances of life, I try to get them something.
A “no matter what” time was in college. For a few years gifts for my dad were clothing items I thought he needed. One year I bought him a cool pair of jeans for Christmas. He still wears those jeans. My dad had been into running for a few years and one year I found a name brand running outfit at a discount store. I was so proud of that gift.
Not much time had passed when I came home from classes to a message on my answering machine…back when they had answering machines. There was my father’s voice. He had just gotten back from running and was calling to tell me that he had fallen and torn the running pants I had bought him. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I heard a crack in his voice.
I find parenting to be a constant balancing act. A tightrope. Walking on egg shells. Encourager one moment, enforcer the next. An example of strength. An example of vulnerability.
Growing up, I played tennis. In fact, that pretty much sums up a great deal of my existence and identity from elementary school to college. I spent hours and hours playing tennis. I loved it. I got to be pretty good, too…good enough to pay for college and that was great. As a young girl I loved getting trophies when I won a place in the small tournaments I competed in. I collected them and had them placed all over my bookshelves. Eventually, these trophies, these pedestals, were moved to our family game room. We laugh now when we see them because it is like a shrine to this person I was and no longer am. Who was that girl?
Not long ago, my father called to let me know that he was cleaning out the game room. Could I come look through my things to see what I wanted to keep? Some of the items included these trophies.
Most trophies look EXACTLY the same. They have a girl/boy (sometimes you can tell, sometimes you can’t) on the top getting ready to serve. The only defining element of almost all trophies is a teeny piece at the bottom that gives details of the event. Runner up: 16 State Qualifying. Finalist: Athens Friendly City Classic. Something like that. So, if you strain your eyes and peer closely enough you might get a detail that will evoke a memory. That is, if you take the time to strain and peer.
I looked through this box of trophies my dad had been keeping for what had become decades. Some were as old as 25 years. As I pick through them, it occurs to me how flimsy they are. The boy/girl at the top could easily be ripped off. Some already had. Although they represent an incredibly meaningful season in my life, I realize it isn’t the moment I was handed the trophy that I remember. I don’t remember those moments at all.
I remember my tennis friends. I remember my dad being out on the court with a stubborn, passionate ten year old who wanted to be good at something and loved to smack a tennis ball. I remember how much I loved the heat of the summer and the sweat. I absolutely loved to sweat. I remember tasting the sweat as it rolled down over my lips and jumping in the pool with all of my clothes on…one time even my shoes. I remember refusing to leave one time and my dad, to play along, actually drove off down the street. I spent the next brief moments thinking about spending the night on the courts. Then my dad drove back up.
I remember the heartaches, too. The losses that motivated me to get back out there and try again. I remember my dad believing in me more than I believed in myself. I remember my parents getting divorced and finding comfort in the courts that had always been there, always would be, and had not disintegrated into something I didn’t recognize. I remember boarding school and my tennis team and a tennis coach who kept me grounded in sanity. I remember very important friends at church who kept me balanced and let me have fun off the courts, friends who had never played tennis in their lives, friends who thought that the fact I did was so cool.
With the exception of my very first tournament, I don’t remember anyone handing me a trophy with a boy/girl on a pedestal that looked nothing like me. Those moments of being handed a pedestal are not in my memory
Trophies and their pedestals are meant to be on shelves, not handled. They are flimsy and break easily.
Pedestals are high and are probably scary places. Lonely. And a fall from them is probably painful. If, the boy/girl on the pedestals could feel, that is. But they can’t. Because they aren’t real.
I heard “real” in my dad’s voice that day when it cracked on my answering machine. I heard pain….pain because he had fallen.
We don’t have to put our parents on pedestals to honor them. Pretending that they are perfect, ignoring their humanity, choosing not to be aware of their struggles…that isn’t honoring them. That is encasing them on a pedestal that is dangerous, lonely, flimsy, and easily broken, easily reproduced and replaced.
I think Christians struggle with this idea. We quote the admonition “honor your mother and father”, but cover our parents with fear rather than with reverence, because I think when it comes down to it, we know that if we admit that our parents are not perfect, we might have to admit we aren’t either.
I don’t have to be on a pedestal to be honorable to my kids. I am real…still a lot of that stubborn, passionate ten-year old inside who wants to be good at something.