36 years ago today, my mom and dad drove their 18-year-old son across Kansas to drop me off in Denver at the Jesuit novitiate. The three of us sailed across the flat hot Plains in their recreational vehicle (a retirement investment that they never quite got to use in retirement) for arrival day the next morning. The two of them sat quietly in the driver and passenger seats below, while I perched on the bed above them, peering out the long narrow window, watching for the first sign of the Rocky Mountains to appear on the endless horizon ahead. Years later my mom would tell me how worried she and dad had been for me throughout the whole 13 hour trip across Kansas and eastern Colorado, something they kept to themselves at the time, allowing me to be deep in my own feelings.
Behind me in the kitchenette portion of the RV was a steamer trunk packed with the few selected belongings I was allowed to take with me to the novitiate. We had been given a specific list of clothes, toiletries, a journal, a bible. We were not to bring record albums. Limit our books. No money. Few keepsakes. It was religious life after all, and all we would need to follow Jesus through the eye of the needle would fit into a steamer trunk. Of course, I had carefully painted my family name large and decoratively across the top of my trunk, which was probably the first negative mark on my record the moment the second year novices greeted us curbside and helped us carry it through the front door.
Each year on this anniversary I imagine how much of my current life I could fit in that steamer trunk, and am bewildered. (Just knowing that I couldn’t fit Bob in the trunk, tells me I made the right decision when I left the Jesuits after 13 years with bigger luggage.) And of course, I reflect on this day with gratitude for the other young men who walked into the novitiate with me, the men and women who studied with me and the Jesuits and non-Jesuits who taught and inspired me. But more than anything, I’m grateful for my parents who drove me all the way to the edge of the mountains, full of as many cautious hopes and worries as I had, and selflessly let me go.