April 6 is a big day in more ways than one. It’s the day the LDS church was organized, and it’s the day that my son returned to SC after serving a two-year mission in Mexico. As we chatted on the phone for a few minutes Monday afternoon, he asked, “Do you know what today is?”Of course I knew. There are some things that a mother never ever forgets. Seared into my long term memory are memories of the day he left and of the day he returned.
April 6, 2005 was a sunny day with moderate temperatures. It was also a long one that seemed to drag on forever as his arrival time kept moving back. Originally set for 4:30 p.m., it changed to 7:30 and finally to 9:50. The last phone call letting me know about the later arrival came while we were at Chili’s in Myrtle Beach, and I remember how funny/weird/good it felt to be able to actually talk to him. For two years, we’d talked on Mothers’ day and Christmas with weekly emails to fill in the blanks, and now that restriction was lifted.
Above is a picture of him taken somewhere in Mexico (Fresnillo, I think), and one of the reasons I like it is because of the way he’s looking down the road. In my mind, I imagine him wondering, “What’s down the road? What’s next?” That was probably five years ago. Since then, he’s made two trips back to Mexico, one of which was on his honeymoon. He’s also graduated from college, moved to Atlanta with his lovely bride, and begun graduate school.
Below is my version of the night of his homecoming that I’m cutting and pasting from my book. Any parent of a missionary can identify.
Luke 23: 43
“To day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”
Looking at the video brought back all sorts of recollections of the evening of Elder Crolley’s homecoming. Feelings of anticipation, excitement, and happiness accompanied all of his family as we alternately walked about the airport, sat on the hard seats, did our share of people watching, and talked with each other. As friends began to arrive to welcome the young missionary back to South Carolina and the coast where he grew up, the so-called volume was turned up a notch. Listening to the animated chatter, I recalled my few minutes of reflective solitude an hour earlier as I attempted to read a novel in the quiet “pre-storm” hallway, trying to concentrate on the book and yet having my eyes drawn towards the area beyond the security door, the spot where my son would stand before long.
After two years absence, I’d soon see his face, not in a photograph or in a mini-movie but in the flesh. His father walked up, crossed his arms, and stared at the same spot. Soon his grandmother, sisters, and other family came in from the outside where they had been watching planes depart and arrive. Glancing at the babies he had never seen, I wondered how Elder Crolley would respond to these little ones. Looking to my left, I realized that several people from the two wards where we had been members had arrived. Although it was nearly 10:00 at night, these faithful friends had made the effort to be there. Is this what it’s like in Paradise as our departed friends and family await our arrival?
The din changes its tenor as the moment approaches. His father assures me that I should be the first to greet him, followed by his grandmother, and I stand alone at the entry, alone and yet surrounded at the same time. My eyes looking forward, I see no one around me or behind me as I scan the faces of the arriving passengers. Where is he???
Suddenly he turns the corner and walks towards us, his appearance changed, matured into a young man that I scarcely recognize. Badge on his lapel, there’s no mistaking his identity as a representative of the Church. Putting down his bag, he hugs me and moves towards the others who have gathered to welcome him home. Thanks to Jenny, my sweet step-daughter, all of the embraces and handshakes are recorded. Looking at them tonight for the umpteenth time, I again wonder if this is what it will be like in Paradise. Even now there are loved ones waiting to welcome us home and envelope us with love.