Nineteen years ago I designed 11 sculptures for the LDS Relief Society's Monument to Women in Nauvoo, Ill. In one of the sculptures, titled, "In Her Mother's Footsteps," I used my son Danny as a model, when he was just a baby, together with Veloy, and Sally, who was 8 or 9 at the time.
Now in her late 20s, following in her mother's footsteps is not exactly what has happened for Sally. While Veloy is a strong leader, her interests tend toward a more domestic lifestyle, whereas Sally has always been very intense and driven by challenges.It didn't surprise us, for example, when she was chosen as piano soloist with the Stanford University symphony, or later when for a time she dropped music altogether to study law.
Still, in some ways she and Veloy have remained very close. For though some strings snap, others are woven with time into webs that become even stronger.
The infant reaching back toward his sister in the sculpture has changed somewhat, as well.
Now an inch or two taller than me, just yesterday morning he left the Missionary Training Center in Provo with a busload of other young missionaries, bound for flights from Salt Lake City to destinations all over the world.
There will be new faces and new experiences, unlike anything Danny has ever known. There will be difficult days, and days of broad awakening. For he is making a passage, much as Sally has before him, each in their own separate way.
I have wondered, the past few days, if such times aren't different for mothers than for fathers. Night before last, Veloy cried for awhile and was openly mellow about Danny's impending departure.
I, on the other hand, have just been more reserved and pensive, almost, harboring a strange instinctive feeling that I must somehow reach out and hold him from harm's way.
For some reason I keep thinking of an incident that happened when he was only a couple of years old and he wandered away from the house one morning in his pajamas (I can tell this story now that he's gone).
Veloy was beginning to worry until she found him on the other side of the hill from our house with his pajamas snagged on a barbed wire fence. And he was crying.
That image of him snagged and helpless has kept coming to mind the past few days, even though rationally I know he is much better equipped now to care for himself.
It is 16 hours by jet from Salt Lake City to Moscow. Then there are 22 hours more by train to his final destination near the northeastern edge of the Black Sea.
About 5:30 this evening, Veloy mentioned that Danny had probably left Moscow by now and was on the train to Rostov.
Suddenly, more than in all the weeks that we have been preparing and saying goodbye, an image appeared that brought me close to tears whenever I thought about it.
I am floating in midair in a sleeping compartment and I can hear the clatter of rails and feel the slow rocking of the train around me. Dawn is breaking and a thin shaft of light keeps flickering through the window, broken by passing trees.
Below me on a narrow cushion - much narrower than the sofa in the family room - Danny lies curled up and sleeping in a rumpled suit. The image is so real I can almost reach down and touch his face.
Forests skitter by. We pass ancient villages with makeshift roads and power lines. A man with a horse and wagon waits at a crossing for the train to pass.
Now Danny is awake and looking out the window. Sunlight and shadow flash across his face, which shows a mixed expression of loneliness and wonder as he studies every detail of the passing scene.
Somewhere beyond this moment a whole new world awaits him. But it is impossible to picture it yet, so he just keeps looking out the window, trying to grasp what bits and pieces he can as they slowly fall into place.
It is a simple image. But I keep seeing it, even now as I write, as the sun rises higher on his new adventure. I am sure that in the days to come it will fade back into the normal patterns of everyday, but for the moment, the image is sharp and distinct.
Two years of letters will fill in a few of the real details, and here at home we will try to imagine what they mean.
Despite my pondering, though, this moment is not ours so much as it is Danny's, as he slips from the wornout knees and tight-fitting clothing of his childhood into the more comfortable-fitting suit of his own unique experience.